HAVANA (AP) – Cuba’s foreign minister told a group of US senators and congressmen Monday that his country is open to greater diplomatic and trade ties but the congressional delegation did not meet President Raul Castro, the man who will make many of the key decisions about the new US-Cuban relationship.
The US delegation was led by Sen Patrick Leahy, who played a key role in the release of American contractor Alan Gross as part of a prisoner exchange that paved the way for the move toward full diplomatic relations. Leahy met with Castro on past trips to Cuba but did not do so again on Monday, two days before Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson arrives in Havana to negotiate the reopening of the US Embassy.
The delegation met for several hours with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who told the legislators that Cuba welcomed President Barack Obama’s loosening of the US trade embargo, which would permit more travel to Cuba and economic links including exports of telecommunications equipment and wholesale goods for use by the country’s small private sector.
“He’s open to every single issue from trade to communications,” Leahy told reporters before leaving Havana. “He talked about the travel back and forth, medical issues. Name an issue, he’s involved.”
Leahy and five other Democratic senators and representatives were trying to ease the reestablishment of full relations by conveying to Cuban officials that their actions in the coming months will influence Congressional openness to Obama’s reforms. At the same time, they are trying to get a sense of the biggest mystery hanging over the new stage of US-Cuban relations: how will Castro’s government respond to the US push to expand diplomatic relations and trade ties?
Cuba has so far offered a guardedly positive reception to Obama’s loosening of the trade embargo on Cuba, saying it welcomes the full package of new economic ties on offer, from sales of telecommunications equipment to exports to the private business sector.