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Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos began an ice-breaking visit to Cuba on Monday, becoming the first European Union (EU) foreign minister to visit the Caribbean nation since a dissident dispute in 2003.

Before meeting his counterpart Felipe Perez Roque, Moratinos said his trip marked the beginning of a new phase in bilateral relations and hoped that it would help ease the tense relations between Cuban and the EU.

"Today we start a new phase in which we will express our opinions, which do not always converge but always seek understanding, through firm, open dialogue," Moratinos said in Havana.

"It is absolutely unthinkable for Spain not to maintain, defend and develop an intense, constructive and policy of dialogue with Cuban authorities," he said.

"And we also hope to discuss what the relations between the European Union and Cuba should be, given the international context."

Perez hoped that the EU will have its own policy toward Cuba and said he was confident of improvement in bilateral ties.

Moratinos is expected to meet Defense Minister Raul Castro, who now temporarily holds the reins of Cuba since the veteran leader Fidel Castro underwent an intestinal surgery last July, and other officials on Tuesday.

Relations between Havana and the EU froze up in mid-2003, when the EU applied diplomatic sanctions to the island country in response to its arrest of 75 dissidents and sentencing them to prison terms of six to 28 years.

Among the measures adopted by the EU were the ending of political dialogue, limiting of high-level government visits and reduction of member states' participation in cultural events in the country.

In response, the Cuban government froze diplomatic contacts with Brussels, accusing the EU of yielding to pressure from the United States.

At the request of Spain's Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the EU lifted its diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in January 2005.

Source: Xinhua

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