CUBA, March 5, 2015. The second round of face-to-face talks between diplomats from Cuba and the United States concluded on February 27, with progress made toward implementing measures announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on December 17.
The meeting took place at the Department of State in the U.S. capital with the aim of opening the way toward restoring relations and the opening of embassies, taking place in a “respectful and professional climate,” according to Josefina Vidal, Ministry of Foreign Relations (Minrex) Director General for the United States and head of the Cuban delegation.
“We had a good meeting and made some progress.”
Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the U.S. host, said that for her part, they had seen, “the type of constructive exchange that advances us toward a more productive diplomatic relationship.”
“In an open, honest, and sometimes challenging yet always respectful conversation, we addressed the requirements of each side and the differences we identified in our first discussion in Havana a month ago, and we made meaningful progress towards resolving them,” she added.
OBSTACLES ON THE PATH FORWARDS
The Cuban delegation reiterated in their exchanges the importance of finding a necessary solution to a set of questions in order to create an appropriate context for the final steps toward the restoration of diplomatic relations.
Vidal mentioned in particular the removal of Cuba from the list of countries sponsoring international terrorism and the provision of financial services to the island’s mission in Washington, which for more than a year has lacked banking services.
Regarding the first issue, the Cuban diplomat explained that there are no preconditions, but that this is an issue to be resolved in the process towards restoring diplomatic relations.
“For us it would be difficult to explain that ties have been restored while Cuba remains on that list, where we think we should never have been placed,” she added. “It’s a question of adjusting to reality and doing justice.”
“From a moral, ethical standpoint, it is very important to address this issue, so that when we restore relations we are initiating a truly new phase in relations between Cuba and the United States on different terms, on solid bases, that really represent a qualitative change in the type of relationship that over these past days we have been discussing,” she said.
Her U.S. counterpart explained that for the State Department, the restoration of diplomatic ties and the reviewing of the unilaterally drawn-up list, are separate issues.
“We understand and I appreciated the fact that the Cuban delegation views this as a priority. We view it as important to complete our review, which is still underway, and we have from the beginning believed that we need to do that as quickly as possible,” Jacobson stated.
With regard to banking services, she added that U.S. diplomats had been working to resolve this issue even before the announcement of December 17. However, they have not yet found a solution.
BUILDING NEW BRIDGES
Both parties explained that during the meeting, information was exchanged regarding bilateral visits and technical meetings to be held in the coming weeks on topics such as civil aviation, human trafficking, telecommunications, immigration fraud prevention and regulatory changes that modify the implementation of the blockade.
Jacobson said the agenda for the coming weeks and months is a sign of the spirit of exchange and a measure of “the dynamism and the movement in the relationship.”
The head of the Cuban delegation explained that the range of issues that have been addressed at a technical level for nearly three years will expand.
“We’re going to have new meetings which we have not undertaken before,” she explained, noting that an exchange at an official level on Information and Telecommunications between representatives of the State Department and Cuban government agencies will be held.
She also said that for the first time the issue of the protection of marine protected areas, a matter of great importance to both sides due to their shared interest in environmental conservation, will be addressed by experts.
Vidal confirmed that the views of both parties regarding the issue of human rights will be addressed. “Cuba had already proposed in July last year to the government of the United States that we begin to have a civilized, respectful, reciprocal conversation” about the topic, she recalled.
Jacobson also referred to the importance of dialogue on this issue, which she described as, “one of the most challenging, most difficult perhaps, but most important dialogues that we have to come up with.”
The Cuban diplomat also responded to a question about the possibility of extraditing people between Cuba and the United States.
She clarified that this point has been discussed many times in the past. She recalled that the two countries signed a treaty on the topic in 1906.
“That extradition treaty, after 1959, was no longer respected when Cuba was asking the U.S. to extradite members of the Cuban dictatorship who were responsible for terrible crimes,” she said. “It is still in force, but does not work.”
She also stated that the document itself had a clause such that it would not apply in cases involving political activities. “Therefore, Cuba has legitimately given political asylum to a small group of U.S. citizens, because we have reason to believe that they deserve this and that is how far we’ve gone. And when one grants political asylum then you can not get into these types of discussions,” she said.
THE NEXT STEPS
Vidal was optimistic at all times that in the near future the parties will see results that will allow for the final steps toward the restoration of diplomatic relations and the fixing of a date for the opening of embassies.
Speaking to the Cuban press and responding to a question from Granma, she explained that the Vienna Convention is not restrictive regarding how to establish diplomatic ties, nor is this directly linked to the immediate opening of a diplomatic mission.
The Cuban official outlined the different scenarios presented in the specific case of Cuba and the United States, where the issue of the list of countries sponsoring terrorism influences on the restoration of relations, and the absence of banking services affects the opening of an embassy.
In this sense, she did not rule out completely the possibility that these two steps will not occur simultaneously.
Meanwhile, Roberta Jacobson expressed her hope that both countries have embassies before the Summit of the Americas, scheduled for early April in Panama.
“I certainly think that, with the kind of cooperation that we had today, I certainly leave those conversations today optimistic”, she said, adding that, “the summit is a good opportunity if we can get things done in time.”
The Cuban delegation ratified their willingness to continue the dialogue on the basis of respect, sovereign equality and reciprocity.
Vidal noted that a date for the next meeting between the two has not yet been set, but that they had agreed to maintain “constant communication” over the coming days and weeks to continue to exchange on the topics discussed.
For her part, Jacobson stressed the importance of these high-level personal exchanges. “Obviously, we do have interests sections in each other’s countries and can have communications without face-to-face meetings. But we have also, in these last two meetings, I think, really solidified the importance of face-to-face diplomacy.”
“…where you have so much to overcome and where you have differences. The ability to have these kinds of very frank conversations is a key variable,” she added.
Jacobson noted that she was impressed with, “the seriousness of the conversation. I was impressed with the level of frankness between our two delegations to put on the table all of the differences and think creatively about how to overcome some of them – in our case, not compromising on our values.”
“Today’s discussion was an important step in that direction. I look forward to continuing my discussions with Director General Vidal,” she emphasized.
“We trust that between our two countries we can establish civilized relations of coexistence and be able to recognize and respect our differences to, as neighbors, identify areas of mutual interest to cooperate for the benefit of our countries, the region and the world,” Vidal concluded.