The United States and Cuba fall short of setting dates to reopen embassies but agree to meet again to overcome deep rifts after they wrapped up historic talks aimed at normalizing relations. Duration: 01:03
'Profound differences' but US, Cuba to meet again
‘Profound differences’ but US, Cuba to meet again
/ Havana (Cuba) – 23 January 2015 10:02 – AFP (Laurent THOMET) / WRAP – UPDATE
The United States and Cuba fell short of setting dates to reopen embassies but agreed to meet again to overcome deep rifts after they wrapped up historic talks Thursday aimed at normalizing relations.
Cuban officials and the highest-ranking US delegation to visit Havana in 35 years praised the tone of their landmark discussions as they work to restore ties broken off in 1961, but they sparred over human rights and admitted to “profound differences.”
They must still discuss a date or location for their next meeting.
It was the first get-together since US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro surprised the world in December when they simultaneously announced plans to normalize ties after decades of enmity.
Roberta Jacobson, the US assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the talks had been “positive and productive.”
The two sides discussed technical issues that need to be worked out to open embassies but, Jacobson said, “I can’t tell you exactly when that will happen.”
The broader goal of normalizing ties will take time, the US official cautioned.
“Those issues that are part of the full range of normalization are complex and they reflect profound differences between our two countries and will continue to be discussed,” she said.
“We have… to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust,” she said, one day after her deputy met Cuban officials on migration policy.
– Human rights debate –
After a final round of talks in the afternoon, Jacobson issued a statement saying she had “pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression and assembly.”
Jacobson was expected to meet with dissidents on Friday, though an official list of names has not been issued.
The dissident community on the island of 11 million has given a mixed reaction to the rapprochement, praising Obama’s effort while voicing concern that too much was conceded to the communist regime.
Cuban delegation chief Josefina Vidal said her government “has never responded to pressures,” but she invited the United States to talk more about human rights because countries with deep differences “can live together.”
Addressing another sensitive issue that has angered Cuba for decades, she urged Obama to take more steps to put a dent on the crippling US economic embargo.
Last week, the US Treasury Department eased travel restrictions for certain categories of American visitors to Cuba and removed some trade obstacles.
The new measures will allow the export of communications devices and supporting services on an island where Internet service is sparse and controled by the government.
Vidal told reporters that Cuba was willing to receive US telecommunications company to “explore the business possibilities in that area, which can be beneficial.”
– Opening door to embassies –
Much of Thursday’s talks centered on how to turn their “interests sections,” which opened in 1977, into fully functioning embassies with ambassadors in Washington and Havana.
Vidal said it was difficult to reopen the Cuban embassy in Washington when Havana remains on a list of state sponsors of terrorism and the US embargo has blocked its mission from accessing banking services.
The Cuban consulate could not issue passports between February and May last year because it could not find banks to handle transactions.
Obama has asked the State Department to review Cuba’s inclusion on the terror blacklist. He has also urged the US Congress to lift the embargo.
For its part, Washington wants Havana to reaccredit its diplomats; end travel restrictions for them within the island; ease shipments to the US mission; and lift a cap on US personnel.
“This is the first conversation in a long list of conversations,” said Marc Hanson, a Cuba expert at the Washington Office on Latin America policy research group.
“I believe that the historical announcements from December will only be fulfilled if full embassies are established,” he added.