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US, Cuba cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties

US, Cuba cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties
02/27/2015 9:39 PM 02/27/2015 9:39 PM

The United States and Cuba claimed progress Friday toward ending a
half-century diplomatic freeze, suggesting they could clear some of the
biggest obstacles to their new relationship within weeks.

After Friday’s talks in Washington, the second round of U.S.-Cuban
discussions in the last month, diplomats of both countries spoke
positively about fulfilling the promise made by Presidents Barack Obama
and in December to restore embassies in each other’s capitals.

The U.S. even held out hope of clinching a deal in time for April’s
summit of North and South American leaders, which Obama and Castro are
expected to attend, however unlikely that appeared.

“We made meaningful progress,” Roberta Jacobson, the State Department’s
senior envoy to Latin America, told reporters, calling the negotiations
“open, honest and sometimes challenging, but always respectful.”

Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, indicated she received assurances
that the U.S. would move on two of the biggest hurdles remaining: Cuba’s
inclusion on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism blacklist and its
inability to conduct normal banking operations in the United States. She
expressed confidence of progress on both priorities “within the
following weeks.”

Cuba’s 33-year status on the terrorism list appeared the biggest hurdle,
with Vidal saying the issue needed to be resolved if the Cold War foes
were to improve ties. Washington is reviewing the designation, which
stems from Havana’s support decades ago for the Basque separatist group
ETA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, Latin America’s
oldest and strongest rebel group.

The U.S. has yet to make a decision, but all signs point toward Cuba
being taken off the list. American officials say they should make their
recommendation ahead of the six-month schedule set out by Obama in
December. And the administration has supported Cuba’s hosting of peace
efforts between the FARC and Colombia’s government.

At a news conference earlier Friday with Liberian Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized his
government’s position that the discussions on re-establishing embassies
were technical and distinct from the U.S. legal examination of Cuba’s
record on terrorism.

“That’s one set of fairly normal negotiations with respect to movement
of diplomats, access, , different things,” Kerry told reporters.
“The state sponsorship of terrorism designation is a separate process.
It is not a negotiation. It is an evaluation that is made under a very
strict set of requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be
pursued separately.”

Cuba cannot get off the list immediately. If the State Department
recommends removal and Obama sends such a decision to Congress, the
communist country would only come off after a 45-day waiting period.
That makes it practically impossible for the embassies to be
reconstituted in Havana and Washington in time for the Summit of the
Americas in Panama, if Cuba sticks to its position.

The likelihood of prolonged talks on normalizing ties has dampened
somewhat the excitement generated when Obama and Castro announced they
were exchanging imprisoned spies and would chart a new course for
U.S.-Cuban relations.

Although the U.S. has eased some trade and travel restrictions, the
economic on Cuba remains in force. Cuba still hasn’t said
whether it will meet America’s full demands for unfettered diplomatic
access on the island. And the same democracy and concerns
that have long hampered the relationship remain.

Both sides are speaking of the embassies as a first step toward bridging
the historic divide between countries separated by only 90 miles.

But other efforts are afoot to improve cooperation. Jacobson and Vidal
spoke of U.S.-Cuban meetings in the coming weeks on human trafficking,
marine conservation, migration, civil aviation, connectivity
and the always testy topic of human rights.

Source: US, Cuba cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties | Miami
Herald Miami Herald –

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