Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson heads to Havana on Sunday for more talks aimed at renewing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and opening embassies.
The talks will take place on Monday and could be extended beyond a day 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.
During this third round of talks, Jacobson will once again meet with her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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Although time is running short, the Obama administration is still hopeful relations can be renewed and embassies opened by the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama.
“We will see whether we can get there,” said the State Department official.
The United States’ half-century-old policy of isolating Cuba has caused tensions with other countries in the hemisphere and the administration would like to show significant progress on Cuba before the Panama meeting.
Both President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro plan to attend the summit.
The leaders announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries were committed to reestablishing ties and opening embassies in their respective capitals.
The Cuban and U.S. delegations last met in Washington on Feb. 27 and have been in communication on various topics since then.
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 talk 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.
The U.S. side is disappointed but not surprised at the Cuban position on recently announced U.S. sanctions against some Venezuelan military leaders, 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,” the official said.
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. Asked about the high number of short-term detentions of Cuban dissidents and activists — even with the talks under way — the official said that the United States remains concerned about the tactic.
Still, the official said progress is being made in improving relations between the two formerly hostile neighbors.
“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.”