BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union said Friday it would extend what it called "an open invitation" to members of the Cuban government to visit Brussels -- on condition that the human rights situation on the communist island is discussed.
The invitation is part of the EU's drive to improve its relations with Cuba, strained for years over the issues of human rights and political freedoms.
The EU imposed sanctions on Cuba in 2003 after authorities there detained 75 dissidents accused of working with the United States to undermine Fidel Castro's government. Cuban authorities then released 16 for medical reasons, and in 2005 the EU lifted its sanctions, which included a ban on high-level talks with Cuban officials.
The EU is trying to implement a "dual-track" approach to Cuba -- making an overture to the government while also keeping up its efforts to support dissidents. It is sounding out options for contacts with Cuban officials after the temporary transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul -- the first such change in 48 years.
"There's an invitation to the new government people under Raul. It's a general, broadly based invitation, an offer for dialogue," said a senior diplomat from Germany, which holds the rotating six-month EU presidency.
"The invitation holds from now on, there's no specific date. Let's see what comes out of it. But when you do invite someone you hope they come," the diplomat said on customary condition of anonymity.
The plan was to be discussed Monday at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.
The EU is adamant that, if the Cubans accept the invitation, they also must agree to discussing human rights, political prisoners and democratization of the island. Equally, the union wants all officials from its member states visiting Cuba to raise these issues with the government.
Many governments and rights organizations around the world accuse Cuba of violating liberties by jailing critics and limiting speech and media freedoms.
The island's government rejects those charges, saying it respects human rights more than most nations by offering a wide social safety net that includes free health care. Havana dismisses outspoken critics and dissidents as "mercenaries" of the United States.
It was not immediately clear if Cuba would accept the EU's approach -- although diplomats said a framework for the visit already has been discussed.
Spain is leading the efforts to improve relations with Havana, while countries such as the Czech Republic, Britain, Poland and Sweden have been more guarded.
JG: There is nothing wrong with a dialogue as long it is based on mutual respect. It seems to me that the European Union wants to engage in a "dialogue" but with some preconditions. The Cuban government should be very careful, as both the European Union (a former colonialist power) and the United States (a present imperialist power) will seek to undermine Cuba's national sovereignty and independence.