HAVANA (AFP) – The United States and Cuba fell short of setting dates Thursday to reopen their embassies but the Cold War foes agreed to meet again to overcome deep rifts and normalise relations.
Cuban officials and the highest-ranking US delegation to visit Havana in 35 years said their landmark discussions had been productive as they work to restore ties broken off in 1961.
Both sides admitted they had “profound differences” but they decided to see each other again. They must still discuss a date or location for their next meeting.
It was the first get-together since US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro surprised the world in December when they simultaneously announced plans to normalise ties.
Roberta Jacobson, the US assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the talks in Havana’s Convention Centre had been “positive and productive.”
The two sides discussed technical issues that need to be worked out to open embassies but, Jacobson said, “I can’t tell you exactly when that will happen.”
The broader goal of normalising ties will take time, the US official cautioned.
“Those issues that are part of the full range of normalisation are complex and they reflect profound differences between our two countries and will continue to be discussed,” she said.
“We have… to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust,” she said after the four-hour meeting, one day after her deputy met Cuban officials on migration policy.
Jacobson said she raised human rights concerns during the talks with her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, and that the communist side’s response was “that they have differences with us on that subject.”
Vidal denied that human rights were discussed during the morning meeting, but after further talks later her deputy, Gustavo Machin, told reporters that Cuban officials proposed to hold talks about the matter in the future.
Vidal said it was difficult to reopen the Cuban embassy in Washington when Havana remains on a list of state sponsors of terrorism and the US embargo has blocked its consulate from accessing banking services.
Obama has asked the State Department to review Cuba’s inclusion on the blacklist. He has also urged the US Congress to lift an embargo that Havana blames for its economic woes.
The raising of the US and Cuban flags in each other’s capitals would send powerful signals of the new era the two nations want to enter.