Cuba's vice president said his government has opened a dialogue with moderate exile groups that seek a transition to democracy and the peaceful replacement of President Fidel Castro.

Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez's comments were broadcast on state radio and monitored here Thursday, a week after a coalition of moderate exile groups publicly invited discussions about democratizing the communist nation.Rodriguez said Cuba shunned contacts with more militant anti-communist exiles in Miami but confirmed the government has opened discussions with moderates, whom he did not identify.

He said those exiles propose "to liquidate Fidel Castro (through) dialogue; they are offering talks," The Miami Herald reported.

In Washington, U.S. State Department officials said they believed it was premature to suggest the Cuban leadership was open to democratic reform, but the Rodriguez statement was potentially significant. The officials spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

In Miami, Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose exile party belongs to the moderate Cuban Democratic Platform umbrella group, said his organization has met with Cuban officials to seek a solution to Cuba's mounting problems.

"There have been indirect contacts with Carlos Rafael and other important officials in the regime," Montaner said. "We all agreed that the era of Castro's communism has reached its end, and that we must look for a Czechoslovakian solution before intransigence imposes a Romanian solution on us."

In the long interview, the Cuban vice president divided the exiles into three groups.

He criticized the "reactionary and ultrarightist" wing headed by Jorge Mas Canosa, who leads the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, and Armando Valladares, U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. A second group, he said, consisted of people trying to return to Cuba for visits.

The third group, which he did not identify by name, consists of "ex-reactionaries" who have abandoned violent strategies.