Both sides optimistic about 4th round of U.S.-Cuba talks
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
The fourth time could be the charm as the United States and Cuba head
into their next round of talks aimed at reestablishing diplomatic ties
and opening embassies.
The two sides meet Thursday at the State Department at a time when a
senior State Department official said the face-to-face meeting between
President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro last month at the
Summit of the Americas in Panama renewed a sense of commitment to move
forward on the rapprochement announced between the two countries on Dec. 17.
"We were ready to get together right after that meeting with President
Castro, and our counterparts weren't necessarily as quick to be prepared
as we were," said the official, who briefed the media on the talks on
condition of anonymity. "I do think we're closer than we have been in
the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire
to get this done."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson will head the U.S. delegation at this fourth round of talks,
and her counterpart will be Josefina Vidal, who heads the United States
Office at Cuba's Foreign Ministry.
In Havana, Gustavo Machin, deputy director general of the U.S. office,
told reporters that progress in two areas — Cuba's potential removal
from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in late May and
getting a bank to handle the accounts of its diplomatic missions in
Washington and New York — set up an "appropriate" context for
reestablishing relations and opening embassies.
Cuba's diplomatic missions have been working on a cash basis for more
than a year after their former banker, M&T, said it was getting out of
the business of handling the accounts of foreign missions. The State
Department official said Cuba has found a new bank and there were
reports Wednesday that identified it as Pompano Beach-based Stonegate
Bank, which has 21 branches in Florida, including offices in Coral
Gables and Doral.
Rules for the conduct of diplomats in the future embassies also have
been a sticking point between the two sides.
The United States has said its diplomats should be able to travel freely
throughout the island, engaging Cubans from all walks of life. Cuba
views such visits by U.S. diplomats to dissidents and democracy
advocates as meddling in its internal affairs.
On the Cuban side, a point of contention has been U.S. democracy
programs and specifically the training of independent journalists at the
U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The Interests Section brings in
journalism professors and journalists to teach the courses.
Castro has said he brought up the training of independent journalists
during his conversation with Obama last month. "What most concerns me is
that they continue doing illegal things. For example, graduating
independent journalists," he said.
"These are issues that have been discussed in the previous two meetings
and will be tackled again," said Machin.
The U.S. official acknowledged that Internet training and basic
journalism courses are offered at the Interests Section as they are at
many U.S. embassies.
Machin said there is nothing in the Vienna Convention of diplomatic and
consular relations, which the two sides are using as a template in the
talks, that "indicates embassies are educational centers and this is
part of the behavior of a mission."
"I don't think it's a secret to anyone that the Cuban government does
not like the democracy programs that we have had," said the U.S.
official. The State Department will continue to request funds for
democracy programs, said the official, adding, "We also believe that
this direct engagement is a way of directly supporting the Cuban people
more effectively than we have in the past."
The official said the democracy programs — whose aim is to support civil
society and promote freedom of information — have changed over time and
"will continue to evolve to reflect reality on the ground in both Cuba
and the United States."
Meanwhile, the official said that the two sides are steadily working
through the checklist necessary to open embassies: "There are checks
being made in the box."
Because the United States and Cuba don't have diplomatic relations, they
operate interests sections in their old embassy buildings under the
protection of the Swiss government. To reopen embassies, the Swiss must
be notified of the cancellation of the protective agreements and the
president has to give Congress 15 days notice that the status of the
U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana is changing to an embassy.
Sending that notification to Congress doesn't have to wait until the
United States and Cuba reach agreement on opening embassies, but could
be sent to Congress at any time as the two sides continue to negotiate.
Source: Both sides optimistic about 4th round of U.S.-Cuba talks | Miami
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