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    New climate of pragmatism prevails in U.S.-Cuba relations

    Analysis: New climate of pragmatism prevails in U.S.-Cuba relations
    BY DAVID ADAMS
    MIAMI/HAVANA Sun Nov 17, 2013 8:06am EST

    The flags of the United States and Cuba are seen flying in the Little
    Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida January 26, 2012.
    CREDIT: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON
    (Reuters) – U.S. relations with Cuba have undergone a surprise warming
    in recent months, raising expectations of possible agreements to bring
    the two countries closer after more than 50 years of hostility.

    U.S. and Cuban officials overcame a series of potentially divisive
    incidents this summer with mutual displays of pragmatism rarely seen
    since Cuba’s 1959 socialist revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

    President Barack Obama appeared to recognize this publicly on November 8
    when he said at a fundraiser in Miami that it may be time for the United
    States to revise its policies toward Cuba. “We have to be creative and
    we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our
    policies,” he said.

    Hostile rhetoric has long characterized relations between the two
    countries, separated by only 90 miles of sea. But U.S. and Cuban
    officials now are privately expressing appreciation of each other’s
    handling of the incidents.

    They include Cuba’s decision not to offer a safe haven to fugitive
    former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is
    sought by the United States for alleged espionage, and the
    diplomatically deft U.S. handling of a North Korean ship carrying Cuban
    weapons in possible violation of U.N. sanctions.

    “I think there is a willingness on both sides to engage more
    pragmatically, but we are not on the cusp of any great policy changes,”
    said one U.S. official involved in discussions on Cuba policy. “We are
    not as optimistic as the Cubans are, but there’s interest in moving
    things along.”

    Cuba has made no official response to Obama’s speech but chose not to
    criticize him for hailing two leading Cuban dissidents who attended the
    fundraiser as champions of democracy. Nor did they react to the holding
    of the event at the home of the president of the Cuban American National
    Foundation, a longtime foe of the Castro government. In the past, the
    Cuban authorities have often issued stinging rebukes of a U.S. president
    in similar circumstances.

    “For Obama to say what he said, and do that in Miami, is not easy. That
    didn’t go unnoticed here,” in Havana, said Carlos Alzugaray, a retired
    Cuban diplomat and former ambassador to the European Union. “There is
    still a great lack of confidence between the two sides, but I think both
    sides want to do something.”

    FACE-SAVING DIPLOMACY

    Despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. and
    Cuban officials do have contact “when it is our interest to do so,” one
    senior U.S. government official told Reuters.

    U.S. officials met with a top Cuban diplomat in Washington to request
    that Havana refuse entry to Snowden, U.S. officials told Reuters. Cuba
    made no guarantees, but unlike some of its allies in Latin America it
    chose not to extend a hand to Snowden.

    “There’s a lot of sympathy with Snowden’s cause here, but it wasn’t in
    Cuba’s interest to get involved,” Alzugaray said.

    In July, when the Obama administration detected a North Korean vessel
    carrying a hidden cargo of Cuban weapons, including two MiG-21 fighter
    planes and 15 MiG jet engines, departing from a port in Cuba, U.S.
    officials say they decided not to intervene directly so that they could
    avoid a high-profile bilateral incident.

    Instead, they tipped off Panamanian officials, who raided the ship and
    found the weapons, allowing the case to be handled in a more low-key
    multilateral manner by the U.N. Security Council, which is investigating
    whether the shipment violated a ban against weapons transfers to North
    Korea.

    Cuba says the aging, Soviet-era weapons were being sent for repair, to
    be returned to Cuba. It has remained silent since then, raising no
    objections to the way the issue is being handled, and has cooperated
    with U.N. weapons inspectors who visited Cuba last month.

    “Both sides, Cuba and the United States, have acted with great care,”
    Alzugaray said.

    President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008,
    has earned a reputation as a pragmatist. His attitude toward the United
    States also may be a hedge against political uncertainty in oil-rich
    Venezuela, Cuba’s staunchest – and most generous – ally in recent years.

    U.S. officials are closely watching as Cuba implements a series of
    free-market reforms to the Soviet-style economy. Cuba shows no signs of
    changing its one-party, communist-run political system, although is has
    relaxed travel restrictions, allowing dissidents to travel abroad.

    “Because of the economic reforms under way in Cuba the conditions are
    being put in place for a more normalized engagement with the U.S.,” said
    Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow of the Washington-based Brookings
    Institution who briefed senior administration officials last week on a
    newly published study highlighting the role of a new middle class of
    emerging entrepreneurs.

    “I was given the impression that its basic analysis – that important
    changes were occurring in Cuba and that the U.S. should be more engaged
    - was widely shared and that some new initiatives would probably be
    forthcoming,” he said.

    POTENTIAL CONGRESSIONAL OBJECTIONS

    Obama is likely to face opposition in Congress to attempts to thaw the
    relationship with Cuba at a time when he is already under fire for
    trying to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions.

    Two powerful senators of Cuban descent, New Jersey Democrat Robert
    Menendez and Florida Republican Marco Rubio, both hold to a firm line of
    limited engagement with Cuba.

    “The administration is willing to ignore all of the obvious signs of
    continued and even ramped-up repression because it is overly eager to
    warm up relations between our countries,” U.S. Representative Ileana
    Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, told Reuters.

    The Obama administration’s hands are tied in many ways by the
    50-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, an executive branch
    decree first issued by President John F. Kennedy and reinforced by
    Congress in the 1990s.

    The fate of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, serving a 15-year jail sentence
    in Cuba for his role in setting up an illegal underground Internet
    network, also has made for a diplomatic impasse, as have four convicted
    Cuban agents jailed in the United States for spying.

    U.S. officials say the Gross case remains “a serious impediment” to
    improved relations, but his detention has not ruled out all engagement
    with Cuba.

    “He’s an American prisoner, and we should do all we can to obtain his
    release but we shouldn’t let it guide U.S. foreign policy,” said U.S.
    Representative Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American Democrat from Miami.

    U.S. officials also are upbeat about Cuba’s role in hosting continuing
    peace talks between the Colombian FARC rebels and the government of
    Colombia.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also thanked Cuba for its help late
    last month in securing the release of a U.S. army veteran held by the
    FARC in Colombia.

    One of the signs of a thaw could be Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of
    state sponsors of terrorism, which could ease strict curbs on financial
    transactions involving U.S. citizens.

    Talks between the United States and Cuba to renew direct postal service,
    which was suspended 50 years ago, also have progressed better than expected.

    “The Cubans usually spend the first day lecturing the U.S. on the
    embargo and the next day stalling,” Garcia said. “This time after 15
    minutes of required rhetoric they decided to move forward.”

    (Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana and Andrew Cawthorne in
    Caracas; Editing by Martin Howell, Prudence Crowther and Bill Trott)

    Source: “Analysis: New climate of pragmatism prevails in U.S.-Cuba
    relations | Reuters” –
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/17/us-usa-cuba-relations-analysis-idUSBRE9AG06D20131117