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Progress but no agreement in US, Cuba talks on diplomatic relations

May 22, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Negotiators for Cuba and the United States said Friday after two days of talks that they have not settled on arrangements to reestablish diplomatic relations, severed decades ago, so that full-fledged embassies can open again.

Diplomats from both countries said progress was made, and they agreed to continue talking after completing their fourth round of meetings since Dec. 17, when President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the historic decision to renew relations.

Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, who has been negotiating with her Cuban counterpart, said more details needed to be “ironed out.”

“This has not been an easy task, given our complicated history,” she said during a news conference at the National Press Center that was broadcast live in Cuba. “I remain optimistic, but I’m also a realist about 54 years we have to overcome.”

Diplomatic relations were severed in 1961, at the height of the Cold War, although both countries maintain small interests sections in each other’s capital.

Neither Jacobson nor Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s director of North American affairs, would specify what stumbling blocks remain. Both suggested the talks would ultimately succeed.

“We exchanged views on every aspect related to the functioning of the embassies and the behavior of diplomats,” Vidal said. “I won’t mention in detail the kind of issues we discussed and the positions we took and discussed because these are matters discussed on a diplomatic level.”

But some matters have been aired publicly. Washington wants its diplomats to be free to travel throughout Cuba and speak freely to Cubans, including dissidents.

Cuba has repeatedly raised two sticking points, one of which has been resolved.

This week, U.S. officials said a bank in the United States was willing to handle Cuban diplomatic accounts so Havana’s interests section in Washington could function on something other than a purely cash basis. And next week, Cuba will officially be taken off the U.S. government’s list of states that sponsor terrorism, a milestone that follows a 45-day review period after Obama ordered the change.

Jacobson said future negotiations can probably be handled through the existing diplomatic missions and will not necessarily require the formal talks that she and Vidal have been conducting.

Vidal noted some of the more prosaic matters that will need to be addressed, such as civil aviation, marine protection and nautical charts, and joint efforts to combat infectious diseases.

Read all The Tico Times coverage of the U.S.-Cuba thaw

© 2015, The Washington Post

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