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Mitterrand, In Symbolic Gesture, Invites Castro To Lunch

March 9, 1995

PARIS (AP) _ President Francois Mitterrand has asked Fidel Castro to lunch Monday at the presidential palace. It is the Cuban leader’s first invitation to one of the major Cold War allies, and may give U.S. officials indigestion.

Mitterrand, whose 14-year Socialist presidency ends in May, has been outspoken in supporting overtures toward one of the world’s last communist-ruled nations. In January he described the U.S. embargo of Cuba as ``stupid.″

The presidential palace announced Thursday that Castro would stop in Paris on his way back from the U.N. poverty summit in Copenhagen. He is to confer with Mitterrand prior to Monday’s luncheon, visit the National Assembly and possibly stay in France through Wednesday for a trip to the wine-rich Burgundy region.

It will be Castro’s first official visit to France since he led a communist revolution to power in Cuba on Jan. 1, 1959. His last visit to Europe was in 1992 for the international exposition in Seville, Spain.

Mitterrand has overseen a relatively friendly French policy toward Cuba, supported not only by Socialists but also by many conservative politicians. The conservative speaker of the National Assembly, Philippe Seguin, personally invited Castro to visit the parliamentary chambers.

In January, at a ceremony honoring a Cuban surgeon, Mitterrand assailed the longstanding U.S. embargo of Cuba.

``I remember intervening with the last few presidents of the United States to tell them to lift this stupid embargo which no longer signifies anything and which oppresses an often unfortunate people,″ Mitterrand said in an unusually blunt departure from his normally nuanced style.

The United States, however, says Castro should make further moves to promote democracy and human rights before he can expect the embargo to end.

France has maintained steady trade relations with Cuba. Cabinet ministers have paid visits to Havana, and French relief groups have provided emergency food and medicine.

Among the organizations aiding Cuba in recent years is France Liberte, a human rights foundation founded by Mitterrand’s wife, Danielle. She met Castro during a visit to Cuba last month, and invited him to a dinner at the French Embassy.

Monday’s encounter will not be the first between Castro, 68, and Mitterrand, 78. Aides said they met briefly at an environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and also in Cuba when Mitterrand was head of the Socialist Party but not yet president.

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