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EU Foreign Policy Chief to Visit Cuba

FILE - The European Union's Federica Mogherini, shown speaking to reporters in Ankara last December, will be the highest-ranking EU diplomat to visit Cuba.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will visit Cuba this month as a next step in talks aimed at boosting trade relations between the 28-nation bloc and the communist state, her office said Saturday.

Mogherini will meet with her Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez. She will be the highest-ranking EU diplomat to visit the island.

Mogherini's March 23-24 visit "comes at a crucial time" for negotiations between the two sides, the statement from her office said. "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 EU has been in talks with Cuba for the past year to increase trade and investment. Brussels lifted the sanctions on Cuba in 2008 after half a century.

The United States also is in talks with Havana. A U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, will meet with Cuban officials Monday for a third round of talks.

The U.S. administration began historic talks with the Castro regime earlier this year on re-establishing diplomatic relations and easing economic and travel sanctions imposed decades ago.

The development is opposed by many Cuban-Americans and others who say it legitimizes the communist government.

U.S. and EU officials say that discussions with Cuba will include improving the human rights situation in the country, which has been tightly controlled by Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.

Jacobson said the two sides have discussed establishing civilian air links between their nations, but that the date for human rights discussions has not been set yet.