The State Department said Thursday that historic talks to start the process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and to discuss migration issues between the two countries are set for January 21 and 22 in Havana.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation at the normalization talks on Jan. 22 and Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee is expected to lead the U.S. delegation at the migration talks the previous day.
The migration discussions, which are held semi-annually, were already planned for January. After the United States and Cuba announced on Dec. 17 that they planned to renew diplomatic ties after a break of 53 years, the normalization talks were added to the agenda.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki emphasized this will be the first round in an ongoing diplomatic process. Among the topics she suggested would be discussed are the logistics of reopening embassies in both countries, embassy operations, staffing and visa issues.
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Because there haven’t been diplomatic relations for more than five decades, Interests Sections in Havana and Washington handle consular affairs and other issues. They are both located in the former embassies of the two countries.
Jacobson previously visited Cuba in 2011 when she was principal deputy assistant secretary of state. “Since that time, Department of State practice has been to limit high-level visits to the deputy assistant secretary of state level,” Psaki said.
José R. Cabañas, the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, also plans to travel to Cuba for the talks.
The dates of the talks were released on a day when rumors swirled in Miami about the health of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro who hasn’t been seen in public in many months and did not send his customary message to the Cuban people on Jan. 1 — the 56th anniversary of the day Cuban revolutionary leaders declared victory over the Batista dictatorship.
The Cuban delegation to the previous round of migration talks, last July in Washington, D.C., was headed by Josefina Vidal, director-general of the U.S. Division of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During that round, efforts by both countries to combat illegal migration, human trafficking and the falsification of migration documents were discussed.
The Cuban delegation said that smuggling and illegal migration would only be stemmed if there is legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries. Havana said that the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy of the United States, which allows those fleeing Cuba to remain in this country if they set foot on U.S. shores, are the “main encouragement to irregular arrivals.”
There has been speculation that now that the U.S and Cuba are renewing diplomatic ties there is no longer a strong rationale for such migration policies and the adjustment act and the wet foot/dry foot policy could be in jeopardy.