EU foreign policy chief Mogherini to visit Cuba this month

BRUSSELS (AFP) - EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is due to visit Cuba later this month in a bid to advance nearly year-long talks with the communist island state, the first such trip by a top EU diplomat.

Mogherini will meet her counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, on the March 23-24 visit to Havana which "comes at a crucial time" for negotiations between the two sides, her office said in a statement on Saturday.

"Cuba is facing a very interesting period and the European Union is keen to see how we can take the relationship forward with strong momentum," the statement said.

The meeting between the top diplomats from both sides raises the level of the talks that began 11 months ago.

The EU and Cuba held a third round of talks between chief negotiators at the beginning of March aimed at tackling sensitive human rights issues and finalising an agreement "on political dialogue and cooperation," meant to turn the page on a decade of estrangement.

The talks marked the first meeting between the European bloc and Havana since the United States and Cuba surprised the world by announcing in December that they would move to restore relations after half a century.

"The EU has been closely following the developments in Cuba and its relations with key international players, which create new dynamics in the region and in Cuba itself, and provide new opportunities for all," the statement from Mogherini's office said.

Mogherini is due to meet other government officials as well as the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and civil society representatives.

The two sides will discuss developments in the country and "perspectives" for cooperation, Mogherini's office said.

The statement said the visit is the first one to Cuba conducted by an EU high representative, which is Mogherini's formal title.