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    Contacts with EU possible only after sanctions lifted - Cuban FM

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    MADRID, April 3 (RIA Novosti) - Cuba will be ready for talks with the European Union only after Europe lifts all sanctions against the country, Cuba's foreign minister said Tuesday.

    The EU severed political and cultural ties with Havana in 2003 over its human rights record, when dozens of political dissidents were given long prison terms and three people were executed for a hijack attempt on a commuter ferry to Florida in defiance of a moratorium on the death penalty.

    "Talks with the EU will be possible only after sanctions against Cuba have been lifted," Spanish national radio quotes Felipe Perez Roque as saying after a meeting with his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.

    The EU partially lifted sanctions against the Socialist island in 2005 on Spain's initiative and is set to review a total removal of them in two months.

    And Roque said Europe could conduct its own policy towards Cuba without listening to third countries, which apparently are represented by Cuba's arch-enemy, the United States.

    The foreign minister said Cuba was ready to establish a permanent political dialogue with Madrid to discuss issues related to human rights.

    Moratinos is the first EU foreign minister to have visited Cuba since 2003 and experts in Madrid consider his visit a breakthrough in Cuba's relations not only with Spain, but the EU as a whole.

    Moratinos called Roque his "big friend" and pledged to present a more objective image of Cuba to his EU colleagues, which he said must facilitate the development of mutually beneficial relations.

    Ahead of his two-day trip, a number of right-wing Spanish political parties, human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, and associations of Cuban emigrants demanded that Moratinos exert tough pressure on the Cuban leadership to release dissidents and conduct democratic reforms in the country.

    Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported human rights abuses in Cuba, such as torture, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials and repression of free expression.

    The Spanish authorities said the minister intended to discuss the problem of human rights "painful for Cuban authorities" only with the country's leadership and he was not meeting with Cuban opposition leaders.

    Moratinos is expected to meet with Raul Castro, the acting leader of Cuba, while his brother Fidel Castro is recovering from surgery.

    Madrid, Havana's main West European political and business partner, has mediated the release of many Cuban dissidents in recent years.

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