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In Cuba-U.S. talks, the list of disagreements is still long

In the Cuba-U.S. talks, the moods and political will may have changed, but the key issues have not

For all the talk about historic talks, the list of disagreements between Cuba and the United States, which could trip up renewed ties after the first round of official negotiations this month, looks a lot like it has for many years.

The moods and political will on both sides of the Florida Straits may have changed, but key issues have not, at least not in substantial ways. And where there is significant agreement, it is on topics that were already pretty much resolved.

Cuban President Raul Castro, in a regional meeting this week in Costa Rica, emphasized the line between renewing diplomatic relations and the "normalization" of relations, a much broader arrangement where the disagreements are most stark.

Castro continues to insist that detente should not imply any changes in Cuba's "domestic affairs," while the Obama administration continues to insist its ultimate goal is changing Cuba's domestic affairs.

"The government of the Republic of Cuba will only accept what it feels it can control," said John S. Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "The initiatives proposed by President Obama are designed to tear at the social fabric of the Republic of Cuba."

Here are some of the outstanding issues:

Embassies. Both countries seem determined to open embassies in each other's capital, replacing the interests sections that have handled diplomatic affairs for the last few decades. Both countries want travel restrictions on their diplomats removed. Cuban diplomats can't venture far from Washington, and U.S. officials can't leave Havana without permission. Cuba remains wary about American diplomats being allowed to travel the nation freely, possibly influencing antigovernment sentiment. Havana wants a promise to end U.S. efforts to drum up dissidence against the Castro government; the U.S. has refused.

Embargo. This is the foremost demand by Cuba: an end to the embargo, imposed during the Eisenhower administration, that forbids most American business, private and individual dealings with Cuba. The Obama administration, and others before it, lifted numerous restrictions that eased travel and some trade. But an absolute removal of the embargo must be ordered by Congress. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation that would remove all travel restrictions on American citizens going to Cuba, seen as a first step in whittling away the embargo.

Terrorism. Cuba is also demanding it be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. This seems easier for the Obama administration to do, and the president has ordered the State Department to review the matter.

Fugitives. The U.S. is reiterating its long-standing demand for the return of several American fugitives who fled to Cuba in the 1970s and '80s, lured by the safe haven and the vision of a leftist utopia. Most famous, and most in demand, is Joanne Chesimard, a former Black Panther and member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in the 1977 killing of a New Jersey state trooper. She was sentenced to life in prison but escaped and fled to Cuba, where she is now known as Assata Shakur. Cuba continues to defend its policy of granting asylum to criminals it considers victims of persecution in other nations. And it counters with its own insistence that the U.S. hand over Luis Posada Carriles,wanted by Cuba in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.

Human rights and dissidents. The talks this month highlighted the continued differences over human rights. Cuba bristles at the suggestion that Washington can take a higher moral road when it comes to human rights. Cuba also wants U.S. officials to stop meeting with the island's small dissident community and to end anti-Castro propaganda. The U.S. says no.

Migration. Although there is much general agreement on eased travel between the two countries and family reunification, Cuba insists on an end to the special legal status that the U.S. grants Cuban immigrants. The so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy — Cubans who reach American shores are allowed to remain, but those intercepted at sea are not — lures Cubans to the U.S. and is largely responsible for a brain drain, Cuba argues. U.S. negotiators in Havana said the policy would not change.

Guantanamo. Although it didn't come up publicly in this month's talks, Cuba says it wants the U.S. to close its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and return the land to the Cuban government. Obama has said he wants to close the U.S. prison there, but has not commented on the larger demand.

Reparations and compensation. Both countries want monetary compensation — for different reasons. On the U.S. list are billions of dollars in private and commercial properties confiscated by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution. In his speech this week, Castro said the U.S. owed unspecified reparations to Cuba for damage caused by the embargo.

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

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