Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    AP sources: US offered Cuba swap for American

    Posted on Friday, 10.14.11

    AP sources: US offered Cuba swap for American
    Associated Press

    WASHINGTON — The offered to let a convicted Cuban spy
    return home in exchange for the release of an imprisoned American, but
    Cuba rebuffed the offer, U.S. officials said.

    The U.S. also indicated it would be willing to address other Cuban
    grievances after had released imprisoned contractor ,
    according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because
    the sensitivity of the issue.

    Cuba rejected the offer, noting that the Cuban, Rene Gonzalez, already
    had served most of his sentence. It wanted pardons for at least some of
    the four other Cubans convicted with Gonzalez. U.S. officials said they
    would not consider pardons.

    The December 2009 arrest of , a Maryland native, has aggravated
    relations between the United States and Cuba just as the Obama
    administration was making tentative movements to ease decades of tension.

    Gross was caught bringing prohibited communications equipment into Cuba
    while on a democracy program financed by the U.S. Agency for
    International Development. In March, he was sentenced to 15 years for
    crimes against the state. The United States says Gross was merely trying
    to help Cuba's Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world
    and should not have faced .

    The Cuban government has long been upset about the fate of Gonzalez and
    four other Cubans, known as the "Wasp Network," who were convicted in
    2001 of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida. Cuban
    officials say the five were trying to prevent terrorist attacks on the
    island by monitoring Cuban exiles.

    Gonzalez was released this month after 13 years in but a judge
    has ordered him to serve three years' probation in the United States
    before returning to Cuba.

    U.S. officials offered to press a Miami federal court to allow Gonzalez
    to finish the parole in Cuba, in exchange for Gross' release. Under the
    U.S. proposal, Gonzalez, a dual U.S.-Cuban citizen, would have renounced
    his U.S. ties.

    The Gross-Gonzalez swap was raised by former New Mexico Gov. Bill
    Richardson, as well as by senior U.S. officials in a series of meetings
    with Cuban officials. Richardson traveled to Cuba last month seeking
    Gross' release. He also told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that
    the U.S. would be willing to consider other areas of interest to Cuba.

    Among them was removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of
    terrorism; reducing spending on Cuban democracy promotion programs like
    the one that led to the hiring of Gross; authorizing U.S. companies to
    help Cuba clean up oil spills from planned offshore drilling; improving
    postal exchanges; ending a program that makes it easier for Cuban
    medical personnel to move to the United States; and licensing the French
    company Pernod Ricard to sell Havana Club rum in the United States.

    A U.S. official stressed that the offer was only to discuss those issues
    after Gross was released, with no guarantees that U.S. policies would

    Richardson's initiative blew up after he referred to Gross as a hostage
    in an interview and the Cuban government refused to allow him to see
    Gross. A person briefed on the trip said tensions also spiked when
    Richardson mentioned that the United States had a plane waiting to make
    an exchange, if Cuba agreed, a suggestion the Cubans found presumptuous.

    Richardson was not immediately reachable for comment Thursday.

    U.S. and Cuban officials also discussed the swap on the sidelines of
    last month's U.N. General Assembly session, but Rodriguez, the foreign
    minister, rejected the offer, pushing for the additional pardons.

    In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, Cuban Parliament
    President noted that Gonzalez has served most of his
    sentence, while Gross has not.

    Gonzalez's Miami-based attorney, Phil Horowitz, said neither he nor his
    client had been approached by U.S. or Cuban officials or anyone working
    on behalf of either government about a possible swap.

    "There is no linkage between the two, and there never has been," he
    said. "How could you link Alan Gross to a guy who spent 13 years in prison?"

    Horowitz said he plans to file a request soon with the Miami court to
    allow Gonzalez to complete his probation in Cuba.

    Peter Kahn, a lawyer for the Gross family, said the family supports the
    State Department's efforts to win Gross' release.

    "They continue to be increasingly concerned about Alan's mental and
    physical , as well as their own ability to endure this very
    difficult situation much longer," he said.