HAVANA TIMES — The fourth round of negotiations between the US and Cuba began today in Washington at the headquarters of the State Department, a meeting which could lead to the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana, reported dpa news.
Once again, Roberta Jacobson, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, heads the US delegation, while Josefina Vidal, director of US affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, continues leading the Cuban delegation.
On the negotiating table is the issue of the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.
In the absence of direct diplomatic relations, Cuba and the United States currently maintain Interests Sections which allows them to provide consular services and keep limited bilateral relations on certain specific issues like migration. Both countries’ staff has, however, serious restrictions on action and movement.
There is still no date for the transformation of interest sections in embassies, but both governments have expressed their desire to reach an early agreement. Some believe such an announcement is imminent.
The Obama administration would have to give 15 days’ notice to Congress of the change of status of its diplomatic mission in Havana. But, according to State Department sources, it would be a formality, since by not having to seek extra money for the embassy, no congressional approval for the change of status is required.
The decision by President Barack Obama to remove Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism (to take effect on May 29) and the fact that the Cuban Interests Section in the United States has finally found, according to State Department sources, a bank to handle its consular operations, appears to pave the way for an agreement between the two governments.
Although Havana and Washington finally reach an agreement on the opening of embassies, most likely, the Obama administration will face resistance in the Senate when it comes to naming the first US ambassador to the island in decades.
The Senate, controlled by Republicans, must confirm the ambassador to Havana. Chances are that many Republican senators will oppose any appointment, especially those of Cuban origin.
Moreover, the appointment could become a campaign issue in the 2016 elections, since two of the Republican candidates are of Cuban origin: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Both are opposed to the restoration of bilateral relations with Cuba.
Sen. Ben Cardin has acknowledged that the confirmation of a US ambassador in Havana “might take a little longer” than other issues arising from the new US policy toward Cuba.
“I do not think it is practical to confront a situation that cannot be concluded successfully,” Cardin said.
The first official contact between the two governments after the December 17 announcement to restore relations, broken off unilaterally by the US in 1961, was held on January 22 in Havana. This is the fourth round of talks, after the delegations previously met twice in Havana and once in Washington.
Barack Obama and Raul Castro met face-to-face for the first time in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. It was the first meeting at this level between the two countries in more than 50 years.