EU and Cuba step up talks to normalize ties | News | DW | 25.03.2015
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EU and Cuba step up talks to normalize ties

The European Union and Cuba have accelerated discussions, in hopes of reaching a deal to normalize ties by the end of the year. Talks had been suspended in 2013 over Cuba's crackdown on freedom of speech.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday in an effort to move discussions along more quickly.

"We are in the process of accelerating the pace of negotiations and finalizing an agreement perhaps by the end of the year," she told reporters.

Mogherini is the highest-ranking EU official ever to visit the island nation, a sign she said of how important the relationship was.

She also met with a number of other leaders, including the head of Cuba's Catholic Church.

In 2003, the EU froze talks with the island nation, after its government launched a crackdown on activists and journalists in the country.

Both sides began working to restore relations in 2014, concentrating on improving Havana's human rights record.

It comes just months after the communist island announced a historic agreement with the United States, ending 50 years of silence and hostility.

Cuba postponed a third round of talks due to be held in December, to focus on its top secret discussions with the United States.

The third round was eventually held earlier this month.

Mogherini said while she was pleased by the renewing of Cuban-US ties, they were "different processes" to the EU negotiations.

The landmark deal led to some EU members calling for the bloc to accelerate its own talks.

Particularly insistent was Spain, who considers Cuba a key trading partner.

Mogherini also signed an agreement to give 50 million euros to modernize Cuba's agriculture industry.

Europe is second only to Venezuela as Cuba's top trade partner, with trade of $3.6 billion in 2013. European countries are also key investors in Cuba's tourism industry.

an/sms (AFP, AP)

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