`Substantial progress` in EU-Cuba talks

There has been "substantial progress" in talks in Havana on normalizing ties between the European Union and Cuba, the head of the EU delegation said Thursday.

Havana: There has been "substantial progress" in talks in Havana on normalizing ties between the European Union and Cuba, the head of the EU delegation said Thursday.

"There has been substantial progress, including in the areas of human rights, democracy and governance, and the remaining differences were narrowed even further," said Christian Leffler, who heads the European delegation.

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

It began talks on restoring them in April 2014, aiming to persuade Havana to improve its rights record.

Leffler said that it is "no secret" that the European view on human rights is not the same as the Cuban view of the issue, "so we have to find an area of understanding."

The talks "allowed for the mutual increase of understanding on both sides," which could smooth talks at the next meeting in Brussels in November, Leffler said. 

The European Union and Cuba have moved to accelerate the process since Havana and Washington announced a historic rapprochement in December and reopened embassies in July.

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.

The 28-member bloc is pressing Cuba to sign a slate of international human rights treaties.

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