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Cuba agrees to negotiate with EU on normalizing ties

HAVANA--Cuba said Thursday it had agreed to begin negotiations with the European Union on normalizing ties, after a decade of differences and sanctions.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said his government “accepts with satisfaction” a proposal made last month by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to open negotiations.

Rodriguez said the talks would “mean the end of the European Union's unilateral policies on Cuba.”

The EU officially suspended relations with Cuba, governed by the Americas' only one-party Communist regime, in 2003 over the jailing of dozens of Cuban dissidents.

At talks in Brussels last month, EU foreign ministers voted to launch political talks that could eventually open the way to broader trade and economic ties.

Rodriguez said that Havana would “act constructively and believes that the principles set forth are fully justified and should continue to be the reference point for our relationship.”

These principles, according to the minister, are that the talks should be nondiscriminatory, respect national sovereignty and abide by the idea of non-interference in the internal affairs of the nations involved.

Asked about the message the negotiations would send to the United States, the minister said the European Union's decision “shows unilateral politics don't work and have no place in modern times.”

The United States, which does not have full bilateral relations with Cuba, has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Havana for more than a half-century.

A 'long' Process

Rodriguez said diplomats from both sides would work to determine a timetable for the talks, adding the process would “certainly be a long one.”

The EU delegation to Cuba “warmly welcomed the positive decision of the Cuban government to advance the negotiation process and its interest to resume dialogue at a ministerial level.”

“The two sides will begin the process as soon as possible, in a constructive and mutually respectful spirit,” a statement from the EU delegation to Havana said.

While individual EU nations have signed bilateral accords with Cuba, the bloc's policy as a whole remained based on a 1996 position linking relations to an improvement in human rights.

Havana had considered this interference in its internal affairs.

Rodriguez said Cuba was willing to deal with the EU on “any issue, including the issue of human rights,” adding that Havana had “concerns” on the right countries in some European countries.

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