‘Substantial progress’ made in EU-Cuba talks

Screen shot 2015-09-15 at 8.56.44 AMHAVANA,Cuba (CMC) – The head of the European Union’s (EU) delegation to Cuba, Christian Leffler, says there has been “substantial progress” in talks with Cuban authorities on normalising ties between the EU and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country.

“There has been substantial progress, including in the areas of human rights, democracy and governance, and the remaining differences were narrowed even further,” Leffler said.

The EU suspended relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists, according to EUbusiness.

The EU began talks on restoring relations with Cuba in April 2014, aimed at persuading Havana to improve its human rights record.

Leffler said that it is “no secret” that the European view on human rights is not the same as the Cuban view on the issue, according to EUbusiness.

“So we have to find an area of understanding,” Leffler told reporters, adding that the talks “allowed for the mutual increase of understanding on both sides.”

He said this could smooth the talks at the next meeting in Brussels, Belgium in November.

The EU and Cuba have moved to accelerate the process since Havana and Washington announced a historic rapprochement in December and reopened embassies in July, EUbusiness said.

It said Brussels and Havana have now set themselves a deadline of December 31.

Cuba wants the EU to scrap its nearly 20-year “common position,” which makes restoring European ties with the island contingent on democratic reforms, said EUbusiness, adding that the 28-member bloc is pressing Cuba to sign a slate of international human rights treaties.

Meanwhile,the US Department of State said it sent a small delegation to Cuba on Friday to participate in the inaugural session of a bilateral commission with the Cuban Government.

On Thursday, the department said that Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee is heading the delegation, which includes the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean.

Charge d’affaires ad interim, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, leads the team from the US Embassy Havana, the department said.

During the bilateral commission, the State Department said the team will meet with members of the Cuban Foreign Ministry “to discuss next steps in the normalization process and schedule dates for future discussions on shared priorities.”

“The delegation will seek agreement on priority issues for future negotiations and discuss the scope, timing, delegation level, and frequency of engagement on each issue,” the statement said.

“The delegation does not plan to enter into extensive discussion on each topic during this meeting,” it added.

Jamaica Observer, September 13, 2015

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