Europe Looks to Strengthen Relations with Cuba

The E.U. is hoping to restore full bilateral ties with the communist-led island

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The European Union will open negotiations with Cuba in the aim of expanding its ties with the Communist-run island.

European foreign minister agreed Monday to new talks, after more than a year of internal discussion on the issue, Reuters reports. European negotiators hope to have a largely symbolic pact signed with Cuba by 2015. The E.U. already has some ties with the country—it lifted diplomatic sanctions on Cuba in 2008 and has sent about $109 million in development aid there since then. The bloc is also Cuba’s second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela.

“These negotiations will help consolidate our engagement with Cuba,” E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, according to Reuters. “I hope Cuba will take up this offer.”

Diplomats stressed, however, that a number of issues, including human rights, would have to be addressed with President Raul Castro’s government before full relations with the E.U. could be normalized.