Cuba urges EU to drop its common position

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Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called Wednesday on the European Union to drop its common position on Cuba, which calls for progress on human rights and democracy before normalising relations with the communist island.

"I would very much like the EU's common position on Cuba be abandoned during the Spanish presidency of the EU," he told the online edition of daily newspaper El Mundo.

"We want to advance towards bilateral relations which are mutually decided with the EU on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis" and without "interference in internal issues," he added.

Spain, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU until the end of June, argues the 27-nation bloc's common position on Cuba has yielded few results since it was adopted in 1996.

Madrid wants to replace it with a bilateral cooperation agreement but many other EU nations like Sweden and the Czech Republic have opposed taking a softer stand on Cuba.

Their opposition was reinforced following the death in February of leading Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata after a long hunger strike and the start of another hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Farinas.

"The campaign against Cuba came at a moment when a majority in favour of eliminating the 'common policy' was emerging in the heart of the EU, encouraged by the Spanish EU presidency," said Rodriguez.

"This appears to be a campaign to discredit not only Cuba, but also the presidency of the EU," he added.

Havana will not accept discussing the restart of relations between Cuba and the EU "under conditions of political manipulation", said Rodriguez.

"We will not restart political dialogue as long as these conditions do not change," he said.

Rodriguez was in Spain for a summit between the EU and Latin America.

The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008.

Spain's policy on Cuba shifted in 2005 after Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a socialist, came to power the previous year.

His conservative predecessor as prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, had adopted a policy of isolating the island. Spain and Cuba renewed ties in 2007.

© 2010 AFP

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