Saturday, September 27, 2008

German, Cuban ministers discuss future of EU sanctions

German, Cuban ministers discuss future of EU sanctions
Sep 26 06:07 PM US/Eastern

The foreign ministers of Germany and Cuba met here Friday and discussed
conditions for a possible end to EU sanctions against the communist state.

The talks between Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Cuba's Felipe
Perez Roque on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly was the first of
bilateral meeting of its kind since Cuba's ailing, longtime leader Fidel
Castro handed power to his brother Raul in February.

Steinmeier said they had discussed the political situation in the island
state "which for the first time in 50 years is showing gradual movement".

He said the European Union had welcomed Havana's decision in February to
sign an international pact on civil rights committing it to respect
rights, including freedom of expression, association and movement.

"I made clear today that we noticed this gesture but expect that the
ratification process is pursued in Cuba," he said.

Steinmeier highlighted further reforms including greater access to
mobile phone service and the Internet and the release of dozens of
political prisoners. But he said the 27-member EU expected more.

"The European Union has reacted and said that if this course continues,
we would lift the sanctions that have been suspended, however with the
agreed condition that a review of the human rights situation in Cuba
takes place again next year," he said.

"I don't want to sugarcoat anything. I said again during the meeting
today that we firmly demand that Cuba continues to pursue its policy of
opening up and ensures the rule of law in its own country."

Steinmeier said he had also expressed his sympathies to Roque over
losses in hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which killed seven people,
destroyed 320,000 homes and caused extensive damage to crops and

He offered 350,000 euros (511,000 dollars) for emergency shelters and
other humanitarian aid.

Roque extended an invitation for Steinmeier to visit Cuba at the end of
the half-hour meeting, and Steinmeier "took note of the offer," a German
delegation source said.

EU-Cuba relations were frozen in 2003 when the EU imposed sanctions on
the island nation in retaliation for the imprisonment of more than 70
dissidents, and the execution of three men convicted of hijacking a
passenger ferry and demanding it sail to the United States.

After a 2005 initiative from Spain to normalize relations, the EU moved
definitively on June 19 to establish "political dialogue" and encourage
changes carried out by Raul Castro's government.

The EU's requirements for the lifting of sanctions include an annual
review of relations, improvement of the human rights situation and the
release of political prisoners, including detainees imprisoned in 2003.

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