The United States and Cuba will hold the first session of their new bilateral commission on normalization issues in Havana on Friday, the U.S. State Department said.
U.S. Secretary John Kerry and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced creation of the commission following a meeting on Aug. 14 — the day the U.S. flag was raised outside the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years. It’s expected to serve as a steering committee in the rapprochement process and hold regularly scheduled meetings.
The United States plans to send a small delegation headed by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee. The U.S. delegation also will include David McKean, director of the secretary’s policy planning staff. Charge d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis will head the team from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States and the chief Cuban negotiator in the talks that led to reestablishment of diplomatic relations, will head the Cuban delegation.
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The commission’s inaugural meeting will focus on setting priorities for the next steps in the normalization process and scheduling dates for further negotiations on topics such as migration, telecommunications and the Internet, direct mail service, human rights, environmental protection and fisheries, human trafficking, cooperation on law enforcement and counter-narcotics and civil aviation.
The State Department said Thursday that it doesn’t expect any extensive discussion of such topics during the Friday meeting.
The easier issues the commission will tackle include maritime security, climate change and environmental cooperation and Kerry has said he expects substantial progress can be made on them fairly quickly. Among the topics that Kerry called “toughies” are human trafficking, human rights, claims by U.S. companies and individuals for property taken in the early years of the Cuban Revolution, and the return of U.S. fugitives who have fled to Cuba.
Havana also has said it wants to talk about the return of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay but the United States has said it isn’t currently up for discussion.
Both sides have said that reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which happened just after midnight on July 20, is just the beginning of a long process toward normalization between the two countries.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Cuba held its fifth round of negotiations in a dialogue with the European Union and said it had “in essence” concluded negotiations on a commercial agreement, according to the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Cuba and the EU will hold their next round of talks in November in Brussels.