U.S. President Barack Obama has agreed to take Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, the White House said Tuesday, a key step toward normalizing ties after decades of hostility.
Obama notified Congress of his “intent to rescind” Cuba’s inclusion on the list, which had been a major barrier to establishing embassies in Washington and Havana. U.S. lawmakers have 45 days in which they can oppose the move.
“The government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period,” Obama wrote in the notification.
The move comes three days after Obama held an hour-long meeting with Raul Castro, the first face-to-face talks between a Cuban and U.S. president in a half-century.
If the redesignation is successful, Cuba would again have access to the U.S. banking system, allowing an embassy to be opened and paving the way for further trade between the Cold War foes.
Republicans have expressed criticism of Obama’s detente with the nominally communist island. Senator Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who are considered frontrunners to win the party’s presidential nomination, have deep support in Florida’s powerful Cuban exile community.
If Congress passes a joint resolution objecting to the move, Obama could then issue a presidential veto.
Obama’s ally, Senator Dick Durbin, was quick to welcome the decision.
“While no fan of the Castro regime, I continue to believe that opening up the island to American ideas, vibrancy, and trade is the most effective way to see a more open and tolerant Cuba,” he said.
Cuba was first put on the list, which also includes Syria, Sudan and Iran, in 1982 for harboring ETA Basque separatist militants and Colombian FARC rebels.
The White House said that government departments, including intelligence agencies, concluded that Cuba should be taken off the list.
“Circumstances have changed since 1982,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “Our hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago.”
The United States and Cuba broke relations in 1961, the year Obama was born.
Last December Obama announced that after 18 months of secret negotiations, Havana and Washington would seek to normalize relations.
During his meeting last weekend with Castro, Obama declared that after 50 years of U.S. policies that had not worked “it was time for us to try something new.”
”We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future,” he said, adding that the immediate task was to reopen embassies.
Cuba wants the quick lifting of a U.S. embargo which forbids most trade and American tourism to the island.
U.S.-Cuban tensions have vexed Washington’s relations with Latin America for decades.