Surprise EU-Cuba meet in Paris Thursday

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Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, representing the EU, will hold talks in Paris Thursday with Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Spanish EU presidency said.

The ministerial meeting was originally scheduled for Madrid in early April but was postponed after the death of leading Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata who died after a long hunger strike.

"There will be a meeting in Paris" between the two foreign ministers, spokeswoman Cristina Gallach told AFP, adding that the French capital had been chosen for "logistical" reasons.

The meeting comes just weeks before Spain, a strong advocate of normalising EU relations with Cuba, hands over the reins of the EU's rotating presidency to Belgium on July 1.

Moratinos, who will represent EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at the talks, and Rodriguez will discuss the state of relations between the former Spanish colony and the 27-nation bloc ahead of the annual release of the EU's "common position" on Cuba which sets out the basis for relations.

Spain argues the bloc's common position -- which insists that Cuba makes progress on human rights -- has yielded few results since it was adopted in 1996 and should be abandoned altogether.

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 Zapata's death in February and a wave of prison sentences for dissidents.

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.

The latest version of the common position on Cuba will be agreed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

© 2010 AFP

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