Obama advised to take Cuba off terror list

2015-04-10 05:38
Barack Obama. (Saul Loeb, AFP)

Barack Obama. (Saul Loeb, AFP)

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Panama City - President Barack Obama moved closer on Thursday to removing a major hurdle in the US-Cuba diplomatic thaw, as a lawmaker indicated he could take Havana off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

As Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro landed in Panama for a historic encounter at the Summit of the Americas, it emerged that the State Department has recommended to take Cuba off the blacklist.

Their foreign ministers, John Kerry and Bruno Rodriguez, were to have their own historic talks late Thursday, with US officials saying they would hold the highest-level diplomatic meeting since 1958.

Earlier, Obama said he would not make a formal announcement until he has the recommendations in full, but a leading member of the Senate foreign relations committee indicated the department's advice was clear.

Senator Ben Cardin said the move was "an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba."

Having Cuba's name on the list has been a major sticking point in negotiations aimed at reopening embassies, which closed after the Cold War-era foes broke relations in 1961.

Bans

The blacklisting means that Cuba is subject to a ban on weapons exports and economic aid as well as financial sanctions that make it difficult to get World Bank and other loans.

Cuba was first put on the list, which also includes Syria, Sudan and Iran, in 1982 for harboring ETA Basque separatist militants and Colombian FARC rebels.

During a visit to Jamaica before heading Panama, Obama said the overall talks on establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was moving along as he expected.

"I never foresaw that immediately overnight everything would transform itself, that suddenly Cuba became a partner diplomatically with us the way Jamaica is, for example," he said. "That's going to take some time."

"I do think that we'll be in a position to move forward on the opening of embassies in respective countries," Obama said.

Historic symbolism

An announcement about the terror list during the 35-nation Summit of the Americas on Friday and Saturday would add to the historic symbolism of the gathering.

The meeting will mark the first time that a Cuban leader attends the event, heralding a new milestone in the diplomatic thaw.

"Cuba's presence on the list is seen in Cuba as an unfounded insult and a lie," said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban analyst at New York University.

Mark Weisbrot, director of the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research think tank, said removing Cuba from the list would be "just the beginning" of efforts to normalise relations.

"This is just a bare-minimum first step," Weisbrot said, noting that Havana also wants Congress to lift the US embargo and Washington to abandon the Guantanamo Bay naval base on Cuba's eastern edge.

US Congress review

Cuba's removal from the list would not be immediate. US Congress would have 45 days to decide whether to override Obama's recommendation.

US lawmakers who have been critical of the diplomatic detente could seize on the review of the list to further attack Obama's Cuba policy.

US Senator Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American Republican running for his party's presidential nomination, has been among the most vocal critics of the rapprochement.

A scene of lingering tensions among Cuban dissidents and government sympathisers emerged on Wednesday in Panama City.

Some 100 Castro regime supporters jeered dissidents as they arrived at a Latin American civil society forum in a Panama City hotel, shouting "sell outs" and "imperialists" before leaving the event.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf condemned "those who use violence against peaceful protesters."

Read more on:    raul castro  |  barack obama  |  cuba  |  us  |  security

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