Cuba says terror list, banking issues are blocking better ties with the U.S.

Although President Obama has asked the State Department to review Havana’s inclusion on the terrorism blacklist, Cuba’s formal removal would “create the favorable context” for the two countries to once more have formal embassies in their respective capitals, said Gustavo Machin, vice director for U.S. relations at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry.

“How could we explain to the Cuban people, the American public and the rest of the world that the U.S. and Cuba have restored relations while Cuba remains on that list?” Machin said Wednesday morning at a news conference for Cuban and international reporters.

In Washington, a senior State Department official said that as far as the administration is concerned, the terrorism-list review is separate from the restoration of diplomatic relations. “We’re moving forward on the review as quickly as we can ... but we don’t think that should be linked” to the embassy talks, the official said.

Obama has asked the State Department to review Cuba’s presence on the list and advise him on whether it should be removed. Assuming that State’s recommendation and Obama’s decision are positive, he will send it to Congress for a 45-day waiting period before the removal takes effect.

The State Department official said that the decision, expected in the next several weeks, should allow the process to move forward even without final implementation.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the State Department.

Friday’s meeting will bring together Cuba’s lead negotiator, Josefina Vidal, and Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America. The two held a first round of talks last month in Havana.

The earlier discussions covered a broad range of issues related to full normalization of relations between the two countries, which would require Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Friday’s negotiations will be more narrowly focused on opening embassies and on putting in place a framework for separate bilateral talks on various issues, including human rights and a new civil aviation agreement that will allow commercial air traffic between the two countries.

The United States wants guarantees from Havana that Cubans will have free access to a U.S. Embassy here and that U.S. diplomats will be allowed to travel freely around the island.

U.S. officials are eager for the negotiations to advance swiftly, with Obama preparing to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10 and 11. He is likely to receive praise for his opening to Cuba from other leaders in the region, especially from allies who have argued that U.S. sanctions against the island are a counterproductive anachronism of the Cold War.

The Castro government has been on the terrorism list since 1982, mostly for giving refuge to ETA Basque militants and to Colombian FARC rebels. But Spain long ago stopped seeking the return of the ETA members, and Havana is hosting landmark peace talks between FARC and the Colombian government.

Still, Cuba’s presence on the terror list remains a red flag for internationalfinancial institutions wary of doing business with the island. Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington and its United Nations office in New York have been without access to banking services since last year, and Cuban officials say they cannot operate an embassy without a checking account.

 

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