US, Cuba launch immigration talks

July 15, 2009 12:00 am

, NEW YORK, July 15 – Representatives from Cold-War foes Cuba and the United States, which have experienced a slight thaw since Barack Obama assumed the US presidency, met for migration talks, the first such meeting in six years.

During the one-day meeting the countries reaffirmed their commitment to promote "safe, orderly and legal migration," according to separate statements released by the US State Department and the Cuban Foreign Ministry after the talks.

"Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance US interests on issues of mutual concern," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

The US delegation, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, "highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation" of the US-Cuba Migration Accords, Kelly said.

The move to thaw relations follows Obama’s decision in April to authorize travel and money transfers to the island by US nationals of Cuban descent.

US-Cuba dialogue was suspended in 2003 by then US president George W. Bush, who accused Havana of lack of cooperation on the migration accords, but Havana informed Washington in late May that it would take up a renewed US offer of talks.

In April US President Barack Obama authorized travel and money transfers to Cuba by US nationals of Cuban descent.

In early June, the White House welcomed Havana’s agreement to resume talks on migration issues, but a State Department official did not confirm whether the negotiations would address establishing direct mail service between the two countries. Current policy requires mail to go through third countries.

Mistrust between Washington and Havana remains strong.

Earlier this month Cuba’s government-run press reported that the communist island’s leaders feared a US invasion as recently as 2003.

Cuban President Raul Castro told the National Defense Council that in 2003 Cuban authorities believed then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was planning a huge attack against the island.

"It was the most dangerous moment ever to face our country since the missile crisis of 1962," he told the council, according to Granma.

From a Cuban perspective, the relationship continues to be dominated by US sanctions.

Washington has insisted Cuba must improve human rights — including releasing political prisoners and expanding political freedoms — before fully ending its isolation under a decades-long US embargo.

In the southern US state of Florida, home to the largest Cuban-American community, lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the resumption of talks.

"It is unfortunate that, once again, the Cuban regime is being rewarded with overtures from the US government despite its ongoing atrocities against the Cuban people and policies that undermine US security interests and priorities," Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in the Miami Herald.

In the absence of official ties, the only diplomatic link between the two nations are their interests sections in Havana and Washington, which are run out of the Swiss embassies.


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