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US Rejects Cuban Accusation Washington to Blame for Migration Talks Cancellation

The Bush administration said Wednesday Cuban intransigence was behind a U.S. decision to reject a proposal by Havana for a new round of immigration talks this week. U.S. officials say Cuba is refusing to talk about several key issues regarding the bilateral orderly migration accord, but Cuba denies it.

The two sides have held review talks twice yearly since they reached an agreement in 1994 for the "safe and orderly" immigration of Cubans to the United States.

But the State Department says U.S. officials rejected a Cuban proposal for a new round Thursday in New York, because Cuba has been refusing to address five areas of concern to the United States.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said they include the Castro government's refusal to grant exit permits to all Cubans cleared to leave, and its failure to cooperate in holding a new lottery from which most of those allowed to leave are chosen.

He also said Havana authorities have declined to discuss giving U.S. Coast Guard vessels a deep-water port for repatriating illegal Cuban immigrants, the restoration of access by U.S. diplomats to repatriated Cubans, and its obligation to accept the return of its nationals deemed excludable by the United States.

Under such conditions, Mr. Boucher said, U.S. officials see no point in another meeting now.

"We have raised each of these issues in at least the last six sessions of the talks and Cuba has refused to discuss them substantively," he said. "Consequently, when the Cuban government proposed January 8 for the next round of migration talks, we determined that, given the Cuban government's expressed unwillingness to engage on these five most important issues, that another round of talks at this point did not serve our interests."

Mr. Boucher said there is no requirement in the 1994 accord for regular meetings, but that the United States is willing to reconsider having another round when Cuba agrees to what he termed a "productive agenda," including the five U.S. talking points.

In a statement Tuesday, the Cuban foreign ministry said the United States had unilaterally canceled the talks in a move it described as irresponsible.

It insisted that Cuba was willing to seriously discuss all issues mentioned by U.S. authorities, but said that in what it termed the "imperial language" of the United States, dealing seriously with the issues meant forcing Cuba to give in to "every whim and demand" from Washington.

Spokesman Boucher said the Cuban government began barring U.S. diplomats in Havana from traveling in Cuba to interview returnees last March, when it launched a sweeping crackdown on domestic dissent that it claimed was fomented by the U.S. mission.

He said despite the disagreement on new talks, the United States attaches great value to the orderly migration accord, saying it has likely saved many lives over the years by giving Cubans an opportunity to reach the United States without risking an illegal passage by sea.