The Bush administration said Tuesday it is skeptical about the European Union's decision this week to suspend human rights-related diplomatic sanctions against Cuba. The State Department said the gesture could embolden hardliners in the Fidel Castro government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says that past efforts to get Cuba to improve its human rights record through dialogue have proven futile, but it is calling on the European Union to try to make good on its promises to press the issue as part of renewed dialogue with Havana.

The E.U. announced Monday it was suspending the diplomatic sanctions it had imposed on the Castro government after the jailing of 75 leading Cuban dissidents in 2003.

The organization took the action, to be reviewed in July, at the urging of Spain after Cuba released 14 of the dissidents late last year.

The E.U. coupled its announcement with a call for the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners in Cuba, and a pledge to pursue a constructive dialogue with Havana on human rights.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. experience has been that a productive human rights dialogue with the Castro government is simply not possible. He suggested that the new European policy could prove counter-productive.

"We remain concerned that suspending the restrictive measures, without achieving goals for which they were put in place, will embolden regime hard-liners and dishearten the peaceful opposition. At the same time, I would say that we do look forward to seeing examples of European engagement for democracy. We will encourage the European Union to actively support the peaceful opposition. We'll encourage them to make more vigorous efforts to focus international attention on Cuba's egregious human rights record."

Mr. Boucher said past efforts at dialogue with Cuba by Europeans and others have yielded neither political nor economic reforms.

He said the United States thus believes that the kind of pressure that has existed in the past, through broad sanctions, is the only approach to secure change.

He also said the Bush administration will continue to work with the E.U. on how best to promote human rights in Cuba and support the democratic opposition there.