UPDATE 3-Raul Castro warns U.S. against meddling in Cuba’s affairs

Jan 28 (Reuters) – Cuba will not accept any interference from the United States in its internal affairs, President Raul Castro said on Wednesday, warning that meddling would make rapprochement between the two countries “meaningless”.

His comments came after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the island in 35 years, held talks with Cuban officials on restoring diplomatic relations. Jacobson also met Cuban dissidents, annoying Cuban officials.

“Everything appears to indicate that the aim is to foment an artificial political opposition via economic, political and communicational means,” Castro told a summit in Costa Rica.

“If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States would be meaningless,” he said.

Castro made it clear, however, that he was committed to the talks despite his concern that Washington might try to stir up internal opposition within Cuba through greater telecommunications access and the Internet.

Castro said during the visit with American diplomats that Cuba had proposed that it be removed from a blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, and the return of the U.S. Guantanamo naval base.

The Cuban leader also urged U.S. President Barack Obama to use executive powers to ease a decades-long embargo against Cuba, saying Washington could extend measures like those announced for telecoms to other areas of the economy.

While Obama can gut much of the embargo, only Congress can lift it completely. Obama has asked Congress to do so, and has started by easing restrictions on telecommunications companies in Cuba, among other measures.

Any U.S. companies would have to reach an agreement with Cuban authorities before doing business on the island.

Castro reiterated that he has no plans to budge from Cuba’s single party political system, although observers have said that does not rule out the possibility that independent politicians might be given space to run for local elections in the future.

Castro said Obama’s decision to hold a debate in Congress about eliminating the embargo was “significant”, adding that he was aware that ending it “will be a long and hard road”.

The historic high-level talks between United States and Cuba in Havana are expected to lead to re-establishment of diplomatic ties that were severed by Washington in 1961.

By Enrique Pretel

(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami and Daniel Trotta in Havana; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Gunna Dickson, Kieran Murray, Christian Plumb, Toni Reinhold)

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