Saturday, January 9, 2010

EU must be 'demanding' with Cuba, says Spain

MADRID, Spain (AFP) -- Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called Friday on the European Union to be "demanding" with Cuba even while pushing for dialogue with the island's communist regime.

Spain, which assumed the rotating EU presidency for six months on January 1, is at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

"We must be demanding with Cuba but always keep the door open to dialogue," Zapatero said at a press conference with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and the EU's new president, Herman Van Rompuy.

Spanish media have reported that Madrid wants to establish a new agreement on EU-Cuba ties in the first half of 2010 but has lowered its ambitions to avoid objects from other EU nations.

Asked about the reports, Zapatero said that "for the entire EU, Cuba is not a priority, even if for Spain it is very important".

"Today we had a long meeting and among the foreign policy topics which we discussed, we did not touch on Cuba," said Zapatero, referring to his talks with Van Rompuy and Barroso.

Van Rompuy said he has had "little time to think about Cuba" since he assumed office on December 1.

Spain wants to see an end to the European Union's position on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which calls for improvements in human rights and democracy on the island as a condition for normal relations with the 27-nation European bloc.

But this is opposed by other EU nations, including the two previous holders of the bloc's presidency -- Sweden and the Czech Republic -- as well Cuban human rights groups.

Spain's policy on Cuba shifted in 2005 after Zapatero, a socialist, came to power the previous year. His conservative predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, had adopted a policy of isolating the Communist island.

In 2007 Spain and Cuba renewed ties damaged by Havana's jailing of 75 dissidents in 2003.

January 9, 2010