Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba president notes tone of recent relations with U.S.

    Cuba president notes tone of recent relations with U.S.
    BY MARC FRANK
    HAVANA Sat Dec 21, 2013 5:03pm EST

    (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday called on the United
    States to establish civilized relations with his country, recognizing a
    new tone in bilateral talks on secondary issues while reiterating that
    the country’s political and economic system were non-negotiable.

    The United States and Cuba have appeared more positive of late as talks
    around immigration, postal services, disaster prevention and other
    security issues have taken place, with officials from both countries
    cautiously welcoming each other’s pragmatism and seriousness in
    interviews with Reuters.

    Castro, closing a year-end meeting of the parliament, said that recently
    the two countries, bitter foes for more than half a century, had been
    able “to hold conversations on topics of mutual interest.”

    “We think we can resolve other matters of interest,” he said, without
    elaborating.

    Castro said that “a civilized relationship between both countries” was
    something “our people and the immense majority of U.S. citizens and
    Cuban immigrants desire.”

    Castro’s speech came just two weeks after he and U.S. President Barack
    Obama shook hands at a memorial for the late Nelson Mandela.

    The White House played down the handshake, saying it was unplanned and
    went no further than pleasantries.

    Still, the meeting had resonance because of the surprise warming in
    recent months with several instances of cooperation.

    U.S. and Cuban officials overcame a series of potentially divisive
    incidents this summer, including the interception of a shipment of Cuban
    weapons headed for North Korea, with mutual displays of prudent
    diplomacy rarely seen since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel
    Castro to power.

    At a fund-raising dinner in Miami last month, Obama said that it may be
    time for the United States to revise its policies toward Cuba, against
    which a trade embargo has been in place for more than half a century.

    Obama questioned whether the policy that was put in place in 1961
    remains an effective way of dealing with U.S. differences with the
    Communist-ruled island nation.

    While Castro on Saturday seemed to be holding out an olive branch, at
    the same time he reiterated Cuba’s position, held since the 1959
    revolution, that neither Cuba’s one-party rule, nor its economic system,
    were on the table.

    “We do not demand that the United States change its political and social
    system, nor do we accept negotiating ours,” he said.

    “If we really want to move forward in our bilateral relations, we have
    to learn to mutually respect our differences and become accustomed to
    peacefully living with them,” he said to applause from the parliament
    deputies.

    A significant breakthrough in relations remains unlikely while Cuba
    continues to detain a U.S. government contractor, Alan Gross, who was
    arrested 4 years ago for what Cuba saw as a subversive effort to promote
    political change.

    Gross said he was in Cuba to set up communications equipment to give
    unrestricted Internet access to Jewish groups. A Cuban judge said that
    activity was a crime against the state and sentenced Gross to 15 years.

    It remains unclear what steps the Obama administration can take to
    obtain Gross’s release. Cuba has hinted it would release him in return
    for four Cubans jailed on espionage charges in the United States, but
    Washington has flatly ruled that out.

    (Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)

    Source: “Cuba president notes tone of recent relations with U.S. |
    Reuters” –
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/21/us-cuba-usa-raulcastro-idUSBRE9BK0E820131221