EU postpones decision on Cuba sanctions

Campaign News | Monday, 16 June 2008

By Ingrid Melander and Mark John for Reuters

European Union foreign ministers postponed a decision on Monday on whether to lift sanctions on Cuba, leaving the controversial issue for a summit of the 27-nation bloc on Thursday.

The measures were imposed after a crackdown on dissent in 2003 and include a freeze on visits by high-level officials.

They were formally suspended in 2005 but abolition would be seen as EU encouragement for reforms by Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over after the Feb. 24 retirement of his brother Fidel.

"The foreign ministers' debate on Cuba is postponed to Thursday," the EU Presidency said.

"They have enough difficult topics to discuss today," an EU diplomat said, referring to talks on the bloc's reform Lisbon Treaty, rejected by Irish voters last week.

Lifting sanctions would put the bloc at odds with Washington over Cuba policy. President George W. Bush told an EU-U.S. summit in Slovenia last week the communist island needed to free political prisoners before relations could go forward.

Former colonial power Spain has long led calls for an end to the EU sanctions, which unlike the 1962 U.S. embargo do not prevent trade and investment. But it has met resistance from the bloc's ex-communist members, notably the Czech Republic.

On arrival at an EU meeting on Monday, where they were meant to review the sanctions on Cuba, the bloc's foreign ministers said it was not yet clear if they would be lifted.

Sweden's Carl Bildt told reporters that Cuba did not seem very interested in talks with the bloc anyway.

"We made an offer last year to start the dialogue, and the Cubans slammed the door in our face," he said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini insisted Cuba must improve its human rights record and free political prisoners.

"What is very important is to reaffirm the full respect of human rights in Cuba," said.

"We cannot accept the idea that we'll lift the sanctions and they don't liberate prisoners."

Finland's foreign minister Alexander Stubb said there was "a clear majority for lifting those sanctions" but that handling the aftermath of the Irish "No" was more pressing. (Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Paul Taylor)

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