France's Sarkozy sends Socialist envoy to Cuba

French President has sent a Socialist former minister to Cuba to try to strengthen ties with President Raul Castro.

France's Sarkozy sends Socialist envoy to Cuba

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sent a Socialist former minister to Cuba to try to strengthen ties with President Raul Castro and encourage him to accelerate the Communist state's opening to the West.

Sarkozy's decision to send former Culture Minister Jack Lang to Cuba comes before an expected shift by U.S. President Barack Obama towards dialogue with the Cuban government.

It also further embarrasses the political left in France, from whose ranks Sarkozy has already poached Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and several other government ministers in moves that have highlighted Socialist weakness and division.

"The president has asked Mr Jack Lang to be his special envoy to Cuba to explore with the Cuban authorities the modalities of a resumption of the political and cooperation dialogue between France and Cuba," an official in Sarkozy's office said.

The European Union imposed diplomatic sanctions on Cuba in 2003 after Havana imprisoned 75 presumed opponents of the Communist government. About 55 are believed to still be in jail.

The EU voted in June to lift the sanctions in the hope of encouraging reform in Cuba after Raul Castro replaced his sick brother Fidel Castro as president. It has since agreed to restore aid flows.

Sarkozy's overture comes before a widely anticipated change in U.S. policy. Obama has said he is open to talks with Raul Castro and that he will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit Cuba and send money to their families there.

A senior official in Sarkozy's office, also speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Lang was carrying a letter from the president to Raul Castro and was expected to meet him on Wednesday. He did not elaborate on the contents of the letter and described the trip as a short, ad hoc mission.

"We thought it was the right time to reinvigorate French-Cuban relations, at a time when the European Union has resumed dialogue with Cuba, when Cuba is evolving slowly, too slowly perhaps, when the United States themselves are thinking about their position on Cuba," the senior official said.

He said the trip was "an exploratory help the country evolve in the direction we all hope for."

Lang is a household name in France thanks to a popular spell as culture minister in the 1980s under President Francois Mitterrand, who had close ties with Fidel Castro.

He had been tipped for months for a job under Sarkozy but the appointment is still awkward for the Socialists. The party has been in disarray since Sarkozy defeated its candidate Segolene Royal in France's presidential election in 2007.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Şubat 2009, 11:27