STATE DEPARTMENT —
U.S. and Cuban officials say they have made progress in talks on restoring diplomatic ties but there is still more work to do.
The officials commented on Friday, after wrapping up a fourth round of talks, in Washington.
In the two-day session, negotiators focused on issues including the process for re-opening embassies, following a more than 50-year break in formal US-Cuba relations.
“I do remain an optimist but I am also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome,” Roberta Jacobson, the chief U.S negotiator.
Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, said the two sides still had a “few things that need to be ironed out” and would work to do so as quickly as possible.
Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, said both sides agreed to continue dialogue on key issues.
“Both delegations agreed to continue the exchange on aspects related to the functioning of diplomatic missions,” said Vidal, the head of the U.S. division of Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs.
In a Friday briefing, Jacobson indicated that diplomatic access could be one of the remaining sticking points.
“There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments,” said Jacobson.
“We have confidence that when we get to an agreement, our embassy will be able to function so that our officers will be able to do their jobs,” she added.
One issue that has been troublesome is the right of U.S. diplomats to travel around Cuba unimpeded, said William LeoGrande, a Latin American politics professor at American University.
“The Cubans have said they are willing to allow that [unimpeded travel] but only if U.S. diplomats will refrain from providing support to Cuba dissidents. So, that’s been a sticking point,” said LeoGrande.
Jacobson indicated that fifth round of talks may not be necessary to resolve remaining differences. She said it is possible that remaining challenges could be handled by the chiefs of mission at the U.S. and Cuban interest sections.
The talks between the U.S. and Cuba were the first high-level engagement between the two countries since President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met during the April Summit of the Americas in Panama.
Shortly after the summit, President Obama announced that he intended to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. Congress has until May 29 to weigh in on the president’s decision to remove Cuba from the list.