WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US visit by Cuban President Raul Castro is a possibility, the White House said Thursday, a day after he and US President Barack Obama announced a historic bilateral rapprochement.
With developments proceeding apace, a high-level US diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, revealed she will travel to Havana in late January for the first direct talks to “begin the process of restoration of diplomatic relations”.
But amid celebrations on Havana’s streets and plaudits ringing out from China to Chile over the prospects of burying a final vestige of the Cold War, American lawmakers smothered prospects of any rapid roll-back of the trade embargo at the heart of the dispute.
Obama, who said Washington will move to “end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests”, on Wednesday raised the previously unthinkable possibility of his visiting the island.
When reporters Thursday broached the subject of a Castro visit to the United States, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro.”
Earnest cited Obama’s trips to China and Myanmar (Burma), and the visits by those nations’ leaders to Washington, to argue that engaging with such figures “can actually serve as a useful way to shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of other country’s records as it relates to human rights”.
Beijing meanwhile said it hoped the US would lift its embargo on Cuba as quickly as possible.
But that harsh cornerstone of US policy is here to stay, at least for the near future.
“This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” asserted Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American seen as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
He blasted Obama’s moves as “a victory for oppression” that would reward a dictatorship, and said he would “use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible”.