Cuba's foreign minister backed away Monday from his prediction that Fidel Castro will return to power by early December, raising questions about the pace of the communist leader's recovery from intestinal surgery.

Felipe Perez Roque told The Associated Press that Castro's recovery was "advancing," but declined to guarantee that Castro would be well enough to attend the postponed celebration of his 80th birthday on Dec. 2. Castro turned 80 on Aug. 13 but announced delayed festivities when he told Cubans of his surgery in late July.

Perez Roque had told the AP in September that he expected Castro to be fully back at the helm by early December, and when asked about the birthday celebrations had said: "I have no questions in my mind that we will be able to celebrate his birthday in December as he deserves."

But in an interview Monday, Perez Roque said he couldn't discuss whether Castro would return to power so quickly.

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"It's a subject on which I don't want to speculate," he said, adding: "The important thing is his recovery, which he's doing in a serious and persistent manner."

Castro has not made any public appearances since July 26, a few days before he was sidelined by the surgery and announced a temporary transfer of power to his younger brother Raul. The Cuban government has treated Castro's ailment as a state secret, releasing sporadic videos and photographs to prove he's recovering.

A video released late October on state-run television showed the Cuban leader defiantly denying rumors that he was on his deathbed. Yet some Cubans say they were surprised to see how frail he still was.

Perez Roque said he meets with the leader frequently, and has seen him since the latest video.

"He looks good," the minister said. "I see that his recovery is advancing, that his convalescence is satisfactory."