HAVANA TIMES — US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson, called today’s talks with a high level Cuban delegation in Washington “productive and encouraging” as the two countries move forward in the process to restored diplomatic relations.
The new dynamic in US policy towards Cuba will continue to advance in March with a series of meetings scheduled both in Havana and Washington.
The following is the press release from the US representative in the negotiations with Cuba on the talks that took place on February 27, 2015. It is followed by the press conference this afternoon where Jacobson answered questions from the media.
Statement by ROBERTA S. JACOBSON,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS
Talks to Re-establish Diplomatic Relations
Today, February 27, 2015, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Washington to discuss the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro led the Cuban delegation and I led the delegation for the United States. We view re-establishing diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies as critical early steps in the longer-term process of normalizing relations more than a half century after we severed diplomatic relations.
Today was productive and encouraging. In open, honest, and sometimes challenging – yet always respectful – conversation, we addressed the requirements of each side and the differences we identified in our first discussion in Havana a month ago, and we made meaningful progress toward resolving them. While cognizant that serious disagreements between our governments remain, I am pleased to report that today we saw the type of constructive exchange that advances us toward a more productive diplomatic relationship.
This spirit of exchange is also evident in the events of the coming weeks. Next week, Cuba will send two delegations for separate consultations on trafficking in persons and civil aviation. Next month, a delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy Ambassador Danny Sepulveda will travel to Havana to work with the Cuban government on increasing its capacity for greater internet connectivity to support better access to information by the Cuban people. Also in March, an inter-agency delegation will travel to Cuba to exchange ideas and information about recent U.S. regulatory changes. We agreed to meet at the end of March to discuss the structure of our human rights dialogue.
Without ignoring challenges that remain, we are committed to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which will allow us to more effectively represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people. Today’s discussion was an important step in that direction. I look forward to continuing my discussions with Director General Vidal.
Roberta S. Jacobson with the Press
- RATHKE: All right, thank you. The first question goes to Andrea Mitchell from NBC.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Sorry to – can you tell us, on a separate issue, which I understand is separate as far as the United States is concerned, what progress can be made on removing Cuba from the terror list, which Director General Vidal said was not a precondition but is a priority and would certainly be very difficult to establish diplomatic relations without having that done? And whether you think U.S. embassies – embassies in both countries could be opened before the April 10th Summit of the Americas in Panama.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. Well, I think our view has been – and we’ve been clear on this – that the two issues are separate. We understand and I appreciated the fact that the Cuban delegation views this as a priority. We view it as important to complete our review, which is still underway, and we have from the beginning believed that we need to do that as quickly as possible. The Secretary made comments today some of you may have seen in which he reiterated that we are going to do that as quickly as we can in accordance with the requirements of the law, but that we see that and the establishment of diplomatic relations as separate processes. So that’s what I would reiterate.
On the timing of this, I do think that we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas, and I certainly think that, with the kind of cooperation that we had today, I certainly leave those conversations today optimistic but committed and recognizing the work that still has to be done, but certainly not daunted by the idea that there is a desire to move forward as quickly as we can, and knowing that the summit is a good opportunity if we can get things done in time.
- RATHKE: The next question to David Adams of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. How – were you able to make progress today on the issue of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the freedom of access for movement and meetings for diplomats and access to the embassy. I know you’ve made a big point of how important that is to the United States and the ability, for example, to meet with political dissidents in Cuba.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things I said going into these talks was that they might be a little bit disappointing in the way we came out because we won’t have big headlines. But we have said that those are important things for us to talk about. We did discuss those things today. I do think that we made progress. There was a very cooperative spirit. Those are important to us. It’s important that our embassy operate in Havana in ways that are in accord with those conventions. We both agreed to that. So I think those were issues in particular where we did make progress and where there was a very constructive spirit in the conversations. But more than that, I think I’d leave for continued diplomatic dialogue.
- RATHKE: The next question to Mimi Whitefield from the Miami Herald.
QUESTION: Thank you. Did the issue of human rights come up in any context in today’s conversations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: What I would say is that in a couple of ways, it did – in the sense that certainly, we have always said that the way our diplomats operate in terms of their ability to see as broad a aperture, broad a slice of Cuban society as possible is part of their job. And the ability to see all kinds of people in Cuba is very important to them. I don’t know if people consider that a direct human rights conversation, but it gets you into the issue of people in Cuba who we have always wanted to continue to have conversations with, and the broader civil society question of our ability to talk to, frankly, as many of the 11 million Cubans as we can.
But I also think that in moving ahead – and this is one of the things that I’m most pleased about – in moving ahead to begin to schedule our human rights discussion, we certainly discussed the fact that that is one of the most challenging, most difficult perhaps, but most important dialogues that we have to come up with. And so while there are something like half a dozen dialogues now either scheduled or in the process of being scheduled – and I think that’s very important as a measure of the dynamism and the movement in the relationship – I mentioned some of these in the opening statement. But they range from civil aviation to marine-protected areas to the information and communications technology. It was very important to us that we are now moving ahead on the human rights dialogue as well.
- RATHKE: The next question goes to Felicia Schwartz from The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Hi. So you spoke – so you said you might be able to open the embassies ahead of the Summit of the Americas, but will this require another meeting in Havana or elsewhere?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I think you heard Director General Vidal talk about permanent communication. I like that phrase, although it exhausts me slightly because when you use the word “permanent,” it makes it sound like we’re not going to sleep.
But I do think that we have agreed that we will continue to have discussions on many of these issues that we still have some things to resolve. We made progress today, but we still have things we have to both take back to our respective headquarters and things that we have to come to agreement on where we don’t have a complete meeting of the minds. So exactly what form that’s going to take is not clear. Obviously, we do have interests sections in each other’s countries and can have communications without face-to-face meetings.
But we have also, in these last two meetings, I think, really solidified the importance of face-to-face diplomacy. And it reinforces our belief that diplomatic relations and having full embassies is incredibly important in a relationship like this where you have so much to overcome and where you have differences. The ability to have these kinds of very frank conversations is a key variable. So I don’t know in what form that communication will continue, but it certainly will continue until we have an agreement on all of these issues.
- RATHKE: Okay. I think we have time for one last question to Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thanks. Your counterpart made clear that she had felt she had assurances from the American side on two issues that were very important to them: the removal from the state sponsor list, and banking. She said she felt confidence that those issues were being worked on and were going to be resolved. What kind of assurances did you get from the Cuban side on some of the issues that are most important to the United States, namely your ability to have unrestricted access for your diplomats to meet with whoever want, go wherever they want, and also keep your democracy programs going, and lastly have cargos coming in that are not going to be inspected?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, let me start off by saying I’m hopeful that my counterpart heard what we were saying at the table, which was that what we gave assurances on was that we are working very quickly and very assiduously on the review of the issue of state sponsor of terrorism, not that we’ve prejudged the outcome of that review. So I want to be clear about that.
And the – on the second issue, on banking, let me just say that I do hope she took away from that assurances that we are working to try and resolve that issue, as we have been for over a year, because that actually is an issue that we’ve been working on since before the President’s announcement.
On the issue of the issues, the themes on the agenda, if you will, that were of concern to us, I think we did make progress on a number of them. I don’t feel that it would be appropriate for me to go into specifics about which issue we made more or less progress on. Suffice it to say that I feel that we made sufficient progress on enough of them that I think we came out here with a very positive statement; that I feel that some of them, quite honestly, are close to resolution. Others we have to take back to our respective leadership and talk further; some, I think, require more discussions because they’re still not resolved. We may have some differences in interpretation on certain things, whether it’s under the Vienna Convention or the way that things will proceed going forward.
But I was impressed with the seriousness of the conversation. I was impressed with the level of frankness between our two delegations to put on the table all of the differences and think creatively about how to overcome some of them – in our case, not compromising on our values, but to try and resolve this so that we can have the kind of relationship we want to have. So I don’t want to get into the assurances on each one of those issues. But I’m very encouraged that we will have an embassy functioning in Havana that’s able to do its work in a way that is significantly different and better than our interests section has been able to function up until now.
Thank you very much.