Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unprecedented abstention on UN vote condemning Cuba embargo? US weighs options

Unprecedented abstention on UN vote condemning Cuba embargo? US weighs
SEPTEMBER 21, 2015 12:08 AM

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration may allow the U.N. to condemn
America's economic embargo against Cuba without a fight, The Associated
Press has learned, an unprecedented step that could increase pressure on
Congress to end the 54-year-old restrictions.

As it does every year, the U.N. General Assembly will vote as early as
next month to demand the embargo's end. But this time, U.S. officials
told the AP that the United States could abstain instead of voting
against the resolution as it normally does.

It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions
critical of its own laws. And by not actively opposing the resolution,
the administration would be effectively siding with the world body
against the Republican-led House and Senate, which have refused to
repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so.

The U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations this year, and leaders
of the two countries want to improve commercial ties. But the embargo

"Obviously, we have to obey the law," State Department spokesman John
Kirby told reporters Monday. "It doesn't mean you can't take a position
that you want the law changed."

No final decision on how to vote has yet been made, said four
administration officials who weren't authorized to speak publicly on
sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity. White House
spokesman Josh Earnest also declined to weigh in because he said the
proposed resolution wasn't final. He noted, however, that U.S. policy
has changed since the last time the world body assessed the embargo.

The very idea of an abstention prompted immediate Republican criticism.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator
from Florida, said that by abstaining, Obama would be "putting
international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign
policy interests of the United States." The embargo, he said, denies
money to a dictatorship that can be used to further oppression.

General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable. But the annual exercise
has given Cuba a stage to demonstrate America's isolation on the
embargo, and it has underscored the sense internationally that the U.S.
restrictions are illegitimate.

The United States has lost the votes by increasingly overwhelming and
embarrassing margins. Last year's tally was 188-2 with only Israel
siding with the U.S. Israel would be expected to vote whichever way the
U.S. decides.

The American officials said that the U.S. is still more likely to vote
against the resolution than abstain. However, they said the U.S. will
consider abstaining if the wording of the resolution significantly
differs from previous years. The administration is open to discussing
revisions with the Cubans and others, they added, something American
diplomats have never done before.

The latest U.S. easing of sanctions occurred Friday and was followed by
a rare phone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Pope
Francis, who has played a key role in the rapprochement between Havana
and Washington, arrived in Havana a day later. He travels to the U.S. on

Obama and Castro discussed "steps that the United States and Cuba can
take, together and individually, to advance bilateral co-operation," the
White House said. The Cuban government said Castro "emphasized the need
to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade
policy for the benefit of both peoples."

Neither statement mentioned the U.N. vote. Yet as it has for the past 23
years, Cuba will introduce a resolution at the upcoming General Assembly
criticizing the embargo and demanding its end. Cuba's government
wouldn't comment Monday on the new U.S. consideration.

The U.S. officials, however, said the administration believes an
abstention could send a powerful signal to Congress and the world of
Obama's commitment to end the embargo. Obama says the policy failed over
more than five decades to spur democratic change and left the U.S.
isolated among its Latin American neighbours.

It's unclear what changes would be necessary to prompt a U.S. abstention.

Last year's resolution cited the "necessity of ending the economic,
commercial and financial embargo" and took aim at the Helms-Burton Act.
That 1996 law made foreign firms subject to the same restrictions U.S.
companies face for investing in Cuba, and authorized penalties for
non-U.S. companies operating and dealing with property once owned by
U.S. citizens but confiscated after Fidel Castro's revolution.

A report issued by Cuba last week in support of this year's resolution
doesn't suggest Havana is toning down its approach.

It says American efforts to ease the embargo are "a step in the right
direction but are limited and insufficient in the face of the magnitude
and scope of the blockade laws for Cuba and the rest of the world."

The 37-page document says the embargo has cost the Cuban people $833.7
billion — a number the U.S. would never accept. Washington says the
communist government has used the embargo as an excuse for its own
economic failures.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay and Sergio Bustos in Miami
contributed to this report.

Source: Unprecedented abstention on UN vote condemning Cuba embargo? US
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