Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and Cuban President Raul Castro take part in a signing ceremony for Japan’s grant aid at the Council of State in Havana on Sept. 22. (Shinichi Iizuka)

HAVANA--In the first visit to Cuba by a Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe on Sept. 22 offered billions of yen in grant aid and debt forgiveness while seeking cooperation on dealing with North Korea.

The summit between Abe and Cuban President Raul Castro at the Council of State in Havana lasted for more than three hours, including dinner. Earlier, Abe had talks with Raul’s elder brother, former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In the name of strengthening bilateral economic relations, Abe offered Raul Castro grant aid of 1.27 billion yen (about $12.56 million) for medical devices, including those to treat cancer. It will be the first of the grant aid packages agreed upon by the two countries in April 2015, when Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Caribbean nation.

Abe also said Japan will forgive 120 billion yen in interest in arrears on Cuba’s middle- and long-term debts of 180 billion yen.

In addition, the Japanese prime minister said his government and the private sector will jointly hold a seminar in Tokyo in November to promote Japanese investment in Cuba. The Japan International Cooperation Agency will set up an office in Cuba, he said.

Abe also brought up the issue of the nuclear tests and missile launches by North Korea, with which Cuba has friendly relations.

He asked the Cuban leader for cooperation so that international society can strengthen sanctions against Pyongyang.

“The level of threat (from the country) is now different from the previous one,” Abe said. “Peace and security in East Asia are extremely important issues for our country.”

Abe also sought help from Havana in finding an early resolution to the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Whatever the dispute is, it is important to solve it peacefully,” Raul Castro said.

In his meeting with Fidel Castro at his private house, Abe started the talks by mentioning Fidel’s two visits to Japan, including one to Hiroshima.

“Bilateral relations have drastically made progress,” Abe said.

Abe also raised the North Korean issues at the meeting, which continued for about 70 minutes.

“It is necessary to deal with them rigorously,” Abe said.

Fidel Castro replied: “The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also widely talked about in Cuba. Both countries (Cuba and Japan) have agreed to create a nuclear-free world.”

Cuba resumed diplomatic relations with the United States in July 2015. Since then, economic cooperation and private-sector investments from the United States and Europe to Cuba have become more active.