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    Cuba lowers expectations on eve of talks with US on restoring diplomatic ties

    Cuba lowers expectations on eve of talks with US on restoring diplomatic
    A Cuban official says restoring normal relations will take a long time
    after more than half a century of enmity, Wednesday 21 January 2015 02.30 GMT

    A senior Cuban official said on Tuesday that restoring diplomatic ties
    with the United States won’t immediately lead to a full relationship
    between the Cold War foes after a half-century of enmity.

    The message appeared designed to lower expectations hours before the
    arrival of the highest-level US delegation to Cuba in decades.

    The Havana talks start on Wednesday after President Barack Obama makes
    his case in the State of the Union address for seizing the opening with
    Cuba by ending the US trade embargo of the island. Alan Gross, whose
    release from Cuba in a prisoner exchange last month cleared the way for
    a new relationship, sat with Michelle Obama.

    The high-ranking Cuban diplomat said Tuesday: “Cuba isn’t normalising
    relations with the United States. Cuba is re-establishing diplomatic
    relations with the US. The process of normalisation is much longer and
    deeper.” Reporters were briefed on condition the official not be quoted
    by name.

    The US has taken “steps in the right direction but there’s still far to
    go,” the official noted. He expressed optimism about the long-term
    prospects for US-Cuban relations as long as Washington does not try to
    change Cuba’s single-party government and centrally planned economy —
    tenets of Cuba’s system the US has long opposed.

    A foreign ministry official separately told reporters that Cuba wants to
    be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism before
    restoring relations.

    The Cuban official told Reuters that it it was “unfair” to put Cuba on
    the list, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

    “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.

    American officials have repeatedly said they hope their new path of
    engagement will empower Cubans and soften the government’s control over
    the country.

    Republican leaders in the House and Senate are opposed to the rapid
    rebuilding of relations with President Raul Castro still firmly in
    control of Cuba. Other obstacles include billions of dollars in economic
    claims against Cuba’s government, American fugitives living freely in
    Cuba and the opposition of many Cuban-Americans.

    But the biggest potential challenge is Castro’s government itself, which
    needs a rapid infusion of cash into its stagnant economy but fears
    Obama’s new policy merely repackages the longstanding US goal to push
    him from power.

    Leading the US delegation to Havana is Roberta Jacobson, the most senior
    American official to visit Cuba in 35 years. The rosters on both sides
    include officials well-known to one another from years of cautious
    efforts to improve cooperation.

    “We always have tough things to say to them but nevertheless this is a
    professional discussion,” said John Caulfield, who headed the US
    interest section in Havana until last year. “You don’t have to break the
    ice. People understand each other.”

    Wednesday’s conversations start with a continuation of efforts by both
    sides in recent years to promote what the state department calls “safe,
    legal and orderly migration,” covering everything from the security of
    charter flights that travel regularly between Miami and Havana to
    rooting out fraudulent passports and partnering on potential search and
    rescue missions.

    Thursday’s talks are trickier, dealing with the mechanics of
    re-establishing a US embassy in Havana headed by an ambassador, and a
    Cuban embassy in Washington.

    Immediate US objectives include the lifting of restrictions on American
    diplomats’ staffing numbers and travel inside Cuba, easier shipments to
    the current US interests section and unfettered access for Cubans to the
    building. Cuba’s government hasn’t signaled how it will respond, but the
    Americans say restoration of full diplomatic ties depends on how quickly
    the Cubans meet the US requests. Jacobson will also meet Cuban activists
    and civil society representatives.

    The US and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1961, soon after
    Fidel Castro seized power. Interests sections were established in the
    late 1970s as a means of opening a channel between the two countries,
    but any diplomatic goodwill they generated quickly evaporated. In the
    years since, both governments have enforced restrictions on the activity
    of each other’s diplomats.

    Some changes have come since December’s declaration of detente. The
    Cubans last week released 53 political prisoners. Three days later, the
    Obama administration significantly eased travel and trade rules with Cuba.

    Source: Cuba lowers expectations on eve of talks with US on restoring
    diplomatic ties | World news | –