Third round of U.S.-Cuba talks set in Havana

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson will travel to Cuba on Sunday for the third round of U.S.-Cuba talks.

She’ll meet with her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to continue discussions on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies in the two countries.

The two delegations last met in Washington on Feb. 27 and have been in communication on various topics since then. Later this month, for example, a U.S. delegation to discuss a telecom opening is scheduled to head to Havana.

President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward reestablishing diplomatic ties.

The talks will take place on Monday and could be extended if warranted, said a senior U.S. State Department official who briefed reporters Friday on the upcoming trip. “There’s not a historic nature to this one,” said the official who added that the ongoing conversations had progressed to a point that both sides thought another face-to-face meeting was a good idea.

The U.S. delegation plans to work on some of the same issues that were discussed in earlier conversations, such as its desire for American diplomats to travel freely outside Havana and talks with the Cuban people, staffing levels at the future embassy and unimpeded access to the U.S. diplomatic mission.

The official said a review of Cuba’s continuation on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism is continuing: “That review is underway. We will complete it as quickly as we can. We have always said that it shouldn’t be linked to reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies.”

Part of the review process involves getting information from the Cuban government, the official said.

Asked if the United States still thought diplomatic relations could be restored and embassies open by the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama, the official said, “The president said recently he still thinks this can be done by April at the Summit of the Americas. We will see whether we can get there.”

The United States’ former policy of isolating Cuba had caused a rift with Latin American countries. Both Obama and Castro plan to attend the summit.

The U.S. side is disappointed but not surprised at the Cuban position on its sanctions against Venezuela, the official said, but those differences “will not have an impact on these discussions.”

Since the Feb. 27 talks, the two sides have met to discuss civil aviation and air travel links. “Those talks were quite productive,” said the official.

The two sides also met to discuss human trafficking and a U.S. delegation will head to Havana for a March 24-26 dialogue on a U.S. proposal to open the Cuban telecom market to more participation by American companies.

A dialogue on human rights also is expected to be held before the end of the month, but no date has been set yet.

“I think since the second round [of talks], there’s been a real seriousness of purpose,” said the State Department official. “I am pleased with that and think we’re making very good progress. As the president and secretary have said, you don’t overcome 50 years of policy in a month.”

The official added that legally and diplomatically reestablishment of diplomatic ties and opening of embassies don’t have to occur at the same time, “but we believe they should happen simultaneously.”

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