U.S. and Cuba meet for high-level talks

Jan 22, 2015, 3:21 AM EST
Alex Lee (2nd L), Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America and Cuba, and Josefina Vidal (R), Cuban Foreign Ministry North America Director, sit down for the start of historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba at the Palacio de las Convenciones de La Habana January 21, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.
AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and Cuba are holding their highest-level talks in decades in the Cuban capital, Havana. The BBC reports:

The two days of talks are part of a thaw in relations between the two rivals announced last month by US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. A US official described the first day as "productive and collaborative" The talks, which are focusing on migration and restoring full diplomatic ties, resume on Thursday.

The US delegation is led by Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state and the top US diplomat for Latin America. The last time someone of her level of seniority visited Cuba was 35 years ago.

Her deputy, Alex Lee, said: "The productive and collaborative nature of today's discussion proves that despite the clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutually shared interests."

Cuban foreign ministry official Josefina Vidal criticised US migration policies but said Cuba aspired to have a normal relationship with the United States "in the broader sense but also in the area of migration".

Cuba will tell the United States  it wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism before restoring diplomatic relations, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday. Reuters reports:

The Cuban official said it was "unfair" to put Cuba on the U.S. State Department's list, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan. While saying removal from the list was not necessarily a condition for restoring ties, the official said the Cubans would press the issue with the U.S. delegation.

"We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list," the senior official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It doesn't make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list)."

The designation comes with economic sanctions against the countries and can result in fines for companies that do business with them, such as the record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) paid last year.

Obama said in his Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would review Cuba's designation, and a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday the United States would move quickly and aggressively to remove Cuba from the list.

"We welcome the instructions to review the list but we don't know what is going to happen," the Cuban official said on Tuesday. In its latest annual "Country Reports on Terrorism," the State Department cited Cuba's support for the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm, and the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host.