Havana talks start with promises by Obama, Cuban caution
By Bradley Klapper And Michael Weissenstein Associated Press
POSTED: 01/21/2015 01:40:43 AM MSTADD A COMMENT| UPDATED: ABOUT 10
HAVANA (AP) — The highest-level U.S. delegation to Cuba in decades
begins two days of negotiations with grand promises by President Barack
Obama about change on the island and a somber warning from Cuba to
abandon hopes of reforming the communist government.
U.S. moves to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and loosen the
five-decade trade embargo have “the potential to end a legacy of
mistrust in our hemisphere” and have “added up to new hope for the
future in Cuba,” Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
A senior Cuban official cautioned, however, that restoring diplomatic
ties with the U.S. wouldn’t immediately lead to a full relationship
between the Cold War foes after a half-century of enmity.
The message appeared designed to lower expectations before the arrival
Wednesday of the U.S. delegation and just before Obama spoke to a
Capitol crowd that included Alan Gross, whose release from Cuba in a
prisoner exchange last month cleared the way for a new relationship.
Last month’s announcement of detente has spawned high optimism on both
sides of the Florida Straits, but the high-ranking Cuban diplomat said:
“Cuba isn’t normalizing relations with the United States. Cuba is
re-establishing diplomatic relations with the U.S. The process of
normalization is much longer and deeper.” Reporters were briefed on
condition that the official not be quoted by name.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate are opposed to rapidly
rebuilding relations as long as President Raul Castro remains firmly in
control of Cuba. Other obstacles include billions of dollars in economic
claims against Cuba’s government, American fugitives living freely in
Cuba and the opposition of many Cuban-Americans.
Still, the biggest potential challenge is Castro’s government itself,
which needs cash for its stagnant economy but fears Obama’s new policy
merely repackages the longstanding U.S. goal to push him from power.
The U.S. has taken “steps in the right direction but there’s still far
to go,” the Cuban official noted. He expressed optimism about the
long-term prospects for U.S.-Cuban relations as long as Washington does
not try to change Cuba’s single-party government and centrally planned
economy — tenets of Cuba’s system the U.S. has long opposed.
Re-establishing relations “must be based in principals of international
law,” the official said. “What do these principles mean for Cuba?
Reciprocal respect for each country’s political and economic systems,
avoiding any form of interference.”
American officials have repeatedly said they hope their new path of
engagement will empower Cubans and soften the government’s control over
Leading the U.S. delegation to Havana is Roberta Jacobson, the most
senior American official to visit Cuba in 35 years. The rosters on both
sides include officials well-known to one another from years of cautious
efforts to improve cooperation.
Wednesday’s conversations are expected to start with a continuation of
efforts by the two sides in recent years to promote what the State
Department calls “safe, legal and orderly migration,” covering
everything from the security of charter flights that travel regularly
between Miami and Havana to rooting out fraudulent passports and
partnering on potential search-and-rescue missions.
Thursday’s talks are trickier, scheduled to deal with the mechanics of
re-establishing a U.S. Embassy in Havana headed by an ambassador, and a
Cuban Embassy in Washington.
Immediate U.S. objectives include the lifting of restrictions on
American diplomats’ staffing numbers and travel inside Cuba, easier
shipments to the current U.S. Interests Section and unfettered access
for Cubans to the building. The Americans say restoration of full
diplomatic ties depends on how quickly the Cubans meet the U.S.
requests. Jacobson will also meet Cuban activists and civil society
The U.S. and Cuba haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1961, soon
after Fidel Castro seized power. Interests sections were established in
the late 1970s as a means of opening a channel between the two
countries, but any diplomatic goodwill they generated quickly evaporated.
Some changes have come in the last month. The Cubans last week released
53 political prisoners. Three days later, the Obama administration
significantly eased travel and trade rules with Cuba.
Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Anne-Marie Garcia
contributed to this report.
Source: Havana talks start with promises by Obama, Cuban caution – The
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