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US diplomat holds high-level talks in Havana


Latest update : 2009-09-30

A senior US diplomat has held talks with high-ranking Cuban officials in the latest sign of tension easing between the two countries. The talks cap a visit by a US delegation to discuss the possible resumption of direct postal services.

REUTERS - A senior U.S. diplomat who participated in recent talks in Havana about resuming bilateral mail service with Cuba stayed around to meet with Cuban officials and other Cubans in the latest sign of thawing U.S.-Cuba relations.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital said on Tuesday that Bisa Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, was in Cuba for several days after the Sept. 17 meeting, holding the previously unannounced meetings.

The spokeswoman said Williams met with Cuban officials and with members of Cuba's "civil society," and went to the western province of Pinar del Rio to tour facilities there.

"The Cubans helped set things up for her," the spokeswoman said.

She would not confirm reports that Williams also met with Cuban dissidents.

U.S.-Cuban relations have begun slowly warming under U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said he wants to "recast" relations that have been hostile since a 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and led to Cuba's transformation into a communist state.

He has lifted limits on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba, and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service, the latter aimed at reinstating direct postal service between Cuba and the United States suspended since August 1963.

The two governments issued positive statements after both meetings and said more would be held in the future.

Embargo still in place

The first round of migration talks was held in New York in July, and a second round is tentatively set for December in Havana. They had been suspended since 2004 by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

The U.S. also has suggested to Cuba that travel limits currently imposed on their respective diplomats in both countries be lifted.

In a small but symbolic gesture, Washington also turned off in July a news ticker in the window of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that the Cuban government had viewed as an affront to its sovereignty.

Since the ticker was turned off, Cuba has mostly taken down large flags it placed in front of the interest section to block the ticker from view.

Despite the thaw, Obama has said he will maintain the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba until the Cuban government shows progress on human rights and democracy. Cuba has said it views those as strictly internal issues not subject to negotiation.

Two weeks ago, Obama signed a yearly renewal of the act that imposes the embargo, which Cuba blames for most of its economic problems.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that Cuba has long wanted normal relations with the U.S. and acknowledged that Obama had taken some positive, but small steps in the right direction.

But he said Obama has not yet done enough and he expressed concern that right-wing forces in the United States still wield great power.

"The crucial thing is that the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba remains intact," Rodriguez said.

Date created : 2009-09-30