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    Cuba again offers talks with Obama government

    Posted on Friday, 11.16.12

    Cuba again offers talks with Obama government

    But repeats old positions, says nothing about democracy or

    By Juan O. Tamayo

    jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

    One week after President Barack Obama won reelection, Havana has offered

    a "draft agenda" for U.S.-Cuba negotiations that largely repeats its

    years-old positions but almost directly offers to swap Alan for

    five Cuban spies.

    The statement by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla Lopez to the

    U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday received little initial media

    attention. It was disseminated more broadly Wednesday by his ministry

    and Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington.

    Obama, reelected the previous Tuesday, has lifted nearly all limits on

    Cuban American and remittances to the island, allowed educational

    visits by other U.S. residents and restarted — and then stopped again —

    bilateral talks on migration issues.

    But his administration has repeatedly said that more significant

    improvements in bilateral relations can come only after Cuba frees

    Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor

    serving a 15-year sentence.

    Wayne Smith, a former chief U.S. diplomat in Havana and now a senior

    fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, said

    Rodriguez laid out a list of issues that Havana has long said it wanted

    to discuss in any bilateral talks.

    "He simply reiterated their position. I don't see anything new there,"

    Smith said.

    "This is a non-starter. Same demands as in the past. No offers of major

    concessions on human rights, etc.," Jaime Suchlicki, head of the

    Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the of

    Miami, wrote in an email.

    Arturo López-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst now lecturing at

    the University of Denver, called Rodriguez' speech "a list of maximum

    demands that shows the bilateral conflict can be handled better but not

    solved" during Obama's next term.

    But he added that the foreign minister's words evoked Obama's offer of a

    "new start" in relations with Cuba shortly after he won the White House

    in 2008.

    The U.S. State Department said it had no comment on the Rodriguez proposal

    "Today, here and now, I am again submitting to the U.S. government a

    draft agenda for a bilateral dialogue aimed at moving towards the

    normalization of relations," Rodriguez said.

    His agenda items included lifting all U.S. sanctions; removing Cuba from

    the U.S. list of countries with links to international terrorism; and

    ending the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet-foot, dry-foot policies,

    which Havana complains unfairly lure Cuban migrants to the United States.

    Other draft agenda items included compensation for damages caused by the

    U.S. sanctions, the return of the territory now used by the U.S. Navy

    base in Guantánamo; an end to Radio/TV Marti; and a halt to U.S.

    financial support for dissidents.

    Rodriguez also offered to negotiate agreements in areas of mutual

    interest, such as drug and people smuggling, terrorism, migration,

    natural disasters, the environment and postal services, but made no

    mention of human rights or democracy.

    "An essential element in this agenda," the foreign minister added, is

    the release of the five Cubans convicted of spying-related charges in

    Miami. Havana claims they were trying to avert possible terrorist acts

    by exiles.

    "An act of justice, or at least a humanitarian solution, will arouse the

    gratitude of my people and a response by our government," Rodriguez

    noted, not mentioning Gross by name but clearly indicating a possible swap.

    Gross supporters recently complained that while the Cuban government has

    indirectly referred to a possible exchange for the spies many times, it

    has never put a swap proposal directly on the table.

    The 63-year Maryland man was in late 2009 after giving Cuban

    Jews three satellite telephones paid for by USAID's pro-democracy

    programs. Havana has outlawed the programs, saying they're part of a

    U.S. campaign to topple the communist system.

    The Gross and Cuban spies cases are blocking the way to negotiations,

    said Smith, who criticizes most U.S. sanctions on Havana. "It's a

    stalemate. We've got to get around this in some way."

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/16/3099255/cuba-again-offers-talks-with-obama.html