US says it’s not clear after Cuba talks if new policy works
Bradley Klapper | AP January 23 2015
The highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in more than three
decades said Friday that two days of talks on re-establishing full
diplomatic relations had left her with no sense of whether the new U.S.
policy of engagement would achieve its goal of generating reforms that
benefit the Cuban people.
The Obama administration says the goal of its Cuban policy remains the
same: creating more freedoms for ordinary Cubans. Cuban diplomats said
throughout the negotiations in Havana that the U.S. needs to abandon
hopes of using closer relations to foment change on the island.
Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson told reporters Friday that
the talks had left her with no clearer idea of whether Obama’s new
policy has good prospects of success.
“It’s very hard to say exactly how this will work,” Jacobson said. “We
think that we need to make decisions in our own interest and take
decision that are to going to empower the Cuban people but the verdict
on whether that succeeds is still to be made.”
The United States and Cuba both reported progress toward restoring
diplomatic ties after a half-century of estrangement. But it wasn’t
immediately clear whether the human rights issue, which has previously
blocked closer U.S.-Cuban relations, would pose a threat to the new
“Cuba has never responded to pressure,” Josefina Vidal, the country’s
top diplomat for U.S. affairs, told reporters Thursday night.
The comments by Jacobson and Vidal lay bare the pressures each side
faces at home — the U.S., from Republican leaders in Congress and
powerful Cuban-American groups, and Cuba, from hardliners deeply
concerned that rapprochement could undermine the communist system
founded by Fidel Castro.
Earlier in the week, Jacobson hailed the talks as “positive and
productive,” focusing on the mechanics of converting interest sections
into full-fledged embassies headed by ambassadors. But she also spoke of
“profound differences” separating the two governments and said embassies
by themselves would not mean normalized ties.
Along with human rights, Cuba outlined other obstacles in the
relationship. Vidal demanded that Cuba be taken off the U.S. list of
state sponsors of terrorism. However, she praised Obama for easing the
U.S. trade embargo and urging the U.S. Congress to lift it entirely.
“It was a first meeting. This is a process,” Vidal said. In the next
weeks, she said, the U.S. and Cuba will schedule a second round of
talks, which may or may not be the time to finalize an agreement.
Issues on Thursday’s agenda included ending caps on staff, limits on
diplomats’ movements and, in the case of the U.S. building, removing
guard posts and other Cuban structures along the perimeter.
Earlier, the two countries disputed whether human rights had even been
discussed at all. Jacobson said the U.S. raised it in the morning
meeting; Vidal said it had not come up.
Gustavo Machin, Cuba’s deputy chief of North American affairs, later
said the delegations spent time in an afternoon session discussing U.S.
human rights problems — a reference to recent police killings of black
men in Missouri and New York. Cuban state media said the Cuban
delegation also complained about the detention of prisoners at the U.S.
base in Guantanamo Bay.
A U.S. official said the difference in Jacobson’s statements was
unintentional and that the English version — that the U.S “pressed the
Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom
of expression” — reflected the delegation’s position.
The U.S. and Cuba also talked about human trafficking, environmental
protection, American rules to allow greater telecommunications exports
to Cuba and how to coordinate responses to oil spills or Ebola outbreaks.
The need for at least one future round of talks could set back U.S.
hopes of reopening the embassies before April’s Summit of the Americas,
which Obama and Castro are expected to attend.
Still, after so many years of mutual suspicion, each side stressed the
importance of the collegial atmosphere in Havana that included long
working lunches and a dinner together.
Source: US says it’s not clear after Cuba talks if new policy works |
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