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Spanish EU presidency defends plan for change in Cuba ties

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(MADRID) - The Spanish EU presidency defended Monday its proposal for a new bilateral agreement on ties with Cuba, saying this would legally commit the communist island to improving human rights.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Madrid "wants Cuba to commit itself legally to improve its standard with respect to human rights and that we have greater diplomatic and legal capacity with respect to ties between Cuba and the EU".

Such a bilateral agreement could replace the EU's existing Common Position on Cuba, adopted in 1996 and which calls for progress on human rights and democracy before normalising relations, and which he said is "unilateral".

"We need to stop imposing, dictating, mainly because it does not produce results. Let's move towards a multilateral position where the Cuban authorities have to commit to a series of actions," the minister told a news conference.

"If in the end we achieve a consensus, we will move away from the common position towards a bilateral agreement."

In November Moratinos said Spain wanted to establish a new bilateral agreement on EU-Cuba ties during its presidency of the 27-nation bloc, but last week he said this goal would not be a priority for the EU.

Spanish media said Madrid had lowered its ambitions to avoid objections from other EU nations like Sweden and the Czech Republic which oppose taking a softer stand on Cuba.

The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008.

Spain, which took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU from Sweden on January 1, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

The nation's policy on Cuba shifted in 2005 after Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a socialist, came to power the previous year. His conservative predecessor as prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, had adopted a policy of isolating the communist island. In 2007 Spain and Cuba renewed ties.

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