U.S. and Cuban diplomats said Friday that they had made progress in talks on normalizing diplomatic relations after a five decade break, but were still at odds over Havana’s demand to be taken off a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
U.S. officials had hoped to move quickly on reopening embassies, leaving other issues that divide the two longtime adversaries for later. But Cuban officials have signaled that getting off the terrorism list is key to improving relations with Washington.
Josefina Vidal, chief of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's U.S. division, told reporters after the daylong talks that removal from the terrorism list was not a pre-condition for renewing diplomatic ties, but is a “very important issue” for Cuba.
Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, emphasized that the U.S. viewed re-establishing diplomatic ties and a decision to take Cuba off the terrorism list as separate issues.
Jacobson said she told Vidal that “we’re working on completing” a review of the issue but “we’re not prejudging the outcome of that review.”
An Obama administration decision to take Cuba off the terrorism list could stoke resistance in Congress, where some influential lawmakers strongly oppose ending U.S. isolation of the island nation.
The U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Washington for the first time since Obama announced in December that he would ease the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba as much as he could and begin restoring diplomatic relations. Talks began last month in Havana.
Friday’s session focused on the logistics of reopening embassies in the two capitals and on basic issues of protocol, including the U.S. insistence that its diplomats in Havana are free to meet with Cuban dissidents, and can send material by sealed “diplomatic pouch” without Cuban interference.
Jacobson said the U.S. hopes to reopen embassies before the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders that begins April 10 in Panama. Obama plans to attend and could meet with Cuban President Raul Castro for the first time since they agreed to restore relations.
“I do think we can get this done in time,” Jacobson said.
“We have made progress,” Vidal said.
No date was set for the next round of talks.