Cuba, U.S. talk on jailed American
High-level U.S. and Cuban diplomats discussed the case of a government
subcontractor held in Havana.
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BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The Obama administration's top diplomat on Latin America has met with
Cuba's foreign minister to press for the release of a U.S. citizen
jailed in Havana since December -- the latest in a recent string of
high-level bilateral sessions.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo
Valenzuela and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez met in New York during a
U.N. gathering last month, the State Department's top spokesman said Monday.
The previously unknown session was the most recent in a string of
meetings between officials of the two countries, which have not had full
diplomatic relations since the early 1960s.
``The meeting was to encourage the release of Alan Gross,'' Philip J.
Crowley, assistant secretary for public affairs, told reporters during a
briefing in Washington.
Asked if Havana gave any sign that Gross would be freed, Crowley said,
``I'm not aware that they did.''
He added: ``We would hope that it would happen today, but that's up to
the Cuban government.''
Crowley gave no further details but a senior State Department official
told The Associated Press the meeting was brief and cordial and added
that there were no significant discussions on other matters.
Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International
Development, was arrested Dec. 3 after delivering satellite
communications equipment to what U.S. officials describe as Jewish
groups in Cuba.
A resident of Potomac, Md., the 60-year-old Gross has not been
officially charged, though several Cuban officials have alleged that he
was involved in U.S. intelligence activities against Cuba.
He is being held at Villa Marista, a State Security interrogation center
U.S. government officials have steadfastly denied Gross was on an
intelligence mission, and a string of U.S. visitors -- including New
Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. -- have
urged his release on humanitarian grounds. They also have argued that
his continued detention is stalling efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Gross' wife was allowed to visit him in August and U.S. diplomats based
in Havana have met with him several times since his arrest at the Havana
airport, as he was preparing to leave the island.
While U.S. officials under President George W. Bush had few meetings
with their Cuban counterparts, the pace of such sessions picked up
considerably since President Barack Obama was inaugurated last year.
Valenzuela is believed to be the most senior Obama administration
official to meet with Cuban officials.
Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met
with Rodriguez in March and discussed the Gross case during a U.N.
conference on quake-devastated Haiti. But Mills is not considered to be
part of the department's diplomatic corps.
One of Valenzuela's deputies, Craig Kelly, led a U.S. delegation that
held migration talks in February with Cuban officials in Havana and met
with a group of dissidents.
Bisa Williams, then acting deputy assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs visited Cuba in October 2009 for talks on
resuming direct postal service between the two countries.
Williams, who also served as head of the State Department's Cuba desk,
was described at the time as the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit
Havana since 2002.