Cuba hopes EU talks will lead to U.S. gesture: commissioner

Daniel Trotta
Androulla Vassiliou European Commissioner for Education (L) and Johann Schneider-Ammann Switzerland's Economy minister listens to CERN Director General Rolf Heuer (not pictured) during a visit of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience at the Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the French village of Cessy near Geneva in Switzerland April 15, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba hopes the opening of negotiations on a new political agreement with the European Union could lead to similar talks with the United States, a visiting EU commissioner said Cuba's foreign minister told her on Thursday.

EU Education Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said she, too, hoped the launching of an EU-Cuba dialogue would lead to better relations between Cuba and the United States, which severed diplomatic ties with the communist island in 1961 and imposed an economic embargo a year later.

Vassiliou spoke to reporters after meeting Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

"He said if negotiations with the EU start, it would be a good message also for the U.S. and that we hope that President Obama will be able to also proceed with a similar gesture without any political costs," Vassiliou said.

By suggesting Obama could extend an opening to Cuba without political costs, Rodriguez may have been referring to a public opinion poll released on Tuesday showing most Americans, and a strong majority of Floridians, support normalizing relations with Cuba.

Rodriguez did not make himself available to reporters.

The Cuban Foreign Minister was "expressing a wish that with a resumption of a dialogue with the EU this will be also a good moment for the United States to take the same position," Vassiliou said.

The European Union on Monday agreed to launch negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since Brussels lifted sanctions on the communist-ruled country in 2008.

The talks could lead to the end of the EU's "common position" on Cuba, adopted in December 1996, which places human rights and democracy conditions on improved economic relations.

Cuba, a one-party state that stifles dissent, had previously refused to open talks with Europe as long as the common position was in place.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Adams and Ken; Wills)