U.S., Cuba to hold 4th round of talks next week

Roberta Jacobson, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere.
Roberta Jacobson, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere. Miami

The United States and Cuba plan to hold their next round of talks aimed at reestablishing diplomatic ties and reopening embassies on May 21 in Washington.

As in previous talks, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation and Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will head up the Cuban side.

“A U.S. Embassy in Havana will allow the United States to more effectively promote our interests and values, and increase engagement with the Cuban people,” the State Department said.

Meanwhile, there was a potential Cuban migration problem brewing in the Straits of Florida. A group of 38 Cuban migrants picked up in late April from a crowded catamaran near the Virgin Islands by the Coast Guard cutter Vigilant remain aboard the ship Friday, apparently unable to be repatriated to Cuba or taken to the United States.

When Cubans are interdicted at sea, they are generally returned to the island. “We’re working with our agency partners to get them back to Cuba,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, a Coast Guard spokesman. He referred further inquiries to the State Department, which did not clarify why there were difficulties in repatriating the group.

“The relevant agencies of the U.S. government are working together to resolve the case of these migrants,” the State Department said in a statement.

Since President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement of a new policy of engagement with Cuba after more than a half century of isolation, there have been three rounds of normalization talks.

The last negotiating session was held in Havana in March, although the United States and Cuba have continued to have exchanges on a variety of topics, including migration, law enforcement, human trafficking, telecommunications and Internet access, and mutual environmental concerns, in recent months.

On the rapprochement front, Cuban leader Raúl Castro said Tuesday that he anticipated the two countries could name ambassadors after Cuba comes off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba, which was named to the list in 1982 for promoting revolution in Latin America and Africa, has long contended it never should have been put on the list.

“This sort of unjust accusation is about to be lifted and we'll be able to name ambassadors,” Castro said.

A 45-day waiting period during which Congress can mount objections to Obama’s decision to take Cuba off the list expires May 29 and at that time Cuba is expected to be removed.

The United States has said it wants to reestablish diplomatic relations first and then reopen embassies and exchange ambassadors.

“Indeed, after May 29, when time expires for the U.S. Congress to object to removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list, there is an opening for President Obama,” said Peter Schechter, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. “He may choose an ambassador by recess appointment over the summer, a procedural maneuver that allows him to avoid a procedural filibuster in the Senate.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has said he will do everything he can to block any nomination of an ambassador to Cuba from even coming up for a vote.

Schechter said a recess appointment, which would be valid until the end of this Congressional session, “would allow the president to move the ball forward in opening the U.S.-Cuba relationship even while other larger Congressional hurdles, such as the trade embargo, remain.”