A Cuban state media outlet has released 21 new photos of former leader Fidel Castro, amid rumors about the leader's deteriorating health, and even death. They are the first photos of Castro to be released this year.

The pictures, which were posted by state news outlet Granma, show the ailing leader and his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, talking to the leader of the University of Havana’s student association, Randy Perdomo Garcia, CNN reported. Accompanying the photos is an article written by Garcia, discussing his time from a Jan. 23 meeting with the 88-year old Castro. Granma reportedly published the photos because, “Cuba is anxious to know about him.”

The article quotes Castro as telling Garcia: "I don't trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” USA Today reported. "We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries."

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. took their first steps toward normalization in decades this December, when the two countries exchanged prisoners and agreed on further talks, with the hope of ending a travel ban and embargo that the U.S. has imposed on Cuba since 1961.

In 2006, Castro stepped down from power due to an intestinal health problem. Since then, the leader’s reclusiveness has led to rumors that his health is failing more quickly than thought. His younger brother, Raul Castro, took over as president in his stead, and has recently led efforts with U.S. President Barack Obama to restore diplomatic ties between the estranged neighbors. The thaw has intensified speculation over Fidel’s health, NBC reported.

Cuba has signaled that it is interested in cooperating with the U.S. in diplomatic efforts, but warns that restoring free movement between the countries is contingent on the U.S. ending its support for Cuban dissidents, Reuters reported. Cuba has also demanded that the U.S. lift its crippling trade embargo, and compensate Cuba for damages. U.S. officials have long been critical of Cuba’s government, which they say suppresses criticism of its one-party rule.

Castro has survived numerous CIA assassination attempts and a failed invasion of Cuba. The Central American island nation has been blacklisted by the U.S. ever since Castro, at the age of 32, led the overthrow of a corrupt dictatorial regime and installed a socialist government.