President Barack Obama defended his new policy toward Cuba and cited it as proof that the United States can help the Cuban people obtain a better life without increased risks, according to a New York Times interview.
Obama explained his strategy towards Iran, a nation which he has negotiated with in attempts to halt its nuclear weapons program, saying that his “doctrine” in dealing with countries such as Cuba and Iran: “We’re going to relate with each other but we’re still going to preserve our [defense] capabilities.”
The United States, several European nations, China and Russia, announced a tentative agreement to reduce Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions, but the negotiations have been criticized by members of Congress. The lifting of the embargo placed on Cuba is at the mercy of legislature, since doing so requires votes by its members.
Its new policy towards Cuba has faced strong opposition in Congress. It’s been led by Cuban-American members of Congress, who have criticized the agreement with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, considering that it grants “an economic lifesaver” at a time when its benefactor, Venezuela, undergoes an acute economic crisis.
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But Obama said that the U.S. is sufficiently “powerful as to be capable of proving these propositions without putting ourselves in danger. And that’s the thing...that people don’t seem to understand,” he said the interview.
“You have a country like Cuba. We don’t run a lot of risk in putting to test the possibility that increased relations could lead to better results for the Cuban people,” he said. “It’s a tiny little country. Its not one that can pose a threat to our basic security needs, so there’s no reason to not try out the proposition. And if it results in better results, we can adjust our policies.”
In the interview with The New York Times, Obama recognized that Iran is “a bigger country” and more “dangerous” than Cuba since it has “participated in activities which resulted in the deaths of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is that Iran’s defense department budget is of $30,000 million and our defense budget is of $600,000 million. Iran is aware that they are no match for us,” added President Obama.
Critics say, however, that Cuba shouldn’t be removed from the list of countries that are considered sponsors of terrorism. Jaime Suchiliki, director of the Cuban and Cuban-American studies department at the University of Miami, has circulated a text describing how the Cuban government supports terrorist organizations and its harboring of fugitives wanted by the FBI.
“Someone called me from Washington to inform me that very soon Cuba will be removed from that list,” Suchiliki siad. “This would give Cuba some prestige and allow it to access international markets and to obtain credits.”
Speculation over the elimination of Cuba from this list continues as the VII Conference of the Americas gets set to open Friday in Panama. “The United States has the hope that if it does, Cuba will favorably influence other Latin American countries to soften relations with the U.S. but I don’t think so,” said Suchlicki.