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France Welcomes Castro for Historic State Visit


Cuba's President Raul Castro attends a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, Feb. 1, 2016.

Cuban President Raul Castro, in Paris since Saturday, began his official state visit Monday.

French Energy Minister Segolene Royal welcomed the Cuban leader at the Arch de Triomphe.

French President Francois Hollande will later host the 84-year-old Castro at a state dinner at the Elysee Palace.

Hollande was the first European leader to visit Cuba after the island restored diplomatic relations with longtime foe, the United States.

'Strengthening of relations'

Hollande said the Cuban president's visit to France is "a new stage in the strengthening of relations between the two countries."

Castro's visit comes just months after the Paris Club of international creditors wrote off $8.5 billion of Cuba's debt. France was the mastermind behind that agreement.

France's minister of state for foreign trade, Matthia Fekl, told L'Humanite newspaper that trade between Cuba and France is around $195 million. He said he would like that figure to be much higher.

The U.S. is not a member of the Paris Club of creditor nations and has not lifted its economic embargo against the island.