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US-Cuba Relations to Be Focal Point at Americas Summit

  • Pamela Dockins

A policeman walks outside of the Atlapa Convention Center, site of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, April 8, 2015.

A policeman walks outside of the Atlapa Convention Center, site of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, April 8, 2015.

A Cuban delegation will attend the Summit of the Americas, to be held this Friday and Saturday, for the first time in the history of the regional gathering.

The U.S.-Cuban effort to restore diplomatic ties is expected to be a focal point as leaders from 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere gather in Panama to discuss policy and regional issues,

Ahead of the summit, the U.S. hinted it might drop Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

On Tuesday, Roberta Jacobson, the State Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, said officials were near the end of the review process for Cuba.

“I can’t tell you exactly when everything is going to roll out. But we are at the end of that process,” Jacobson said.

Sticking point

The designation has been a major sticking point for Cuba in its efforts to restore diplomatic ties with the U.S., a move that would allow the two countries to open embassies.

Leaders of Cuban-American organizations are skeptical of removing Cuba’s terror sponsorship designation, which carries penalties that include sanctions on certain exports and financial restrictions.

Francisco Jose Hernandez is president of the Cuban American National Foundation, a group that supports a “nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba.”

He told VOA that a U.S. decision to remove Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism would be “somewhat extemporaneous.”

Hernandez asked what Cuba would be giving in return, “What is it that the U.S. is obtaining on the part of Cuba?”

Frank Calzon, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said the White House’s consideration of removing Cuba from the list shows a “disconnect” between President Barack Obama’s “appraisal of Cuba” and the situation “on the ground” in the country.

“By removing Cuba off of that list, the president is giving up any kind of leverage that he might have to bring justice to a situation like this,” he said.

The U.S. has listed Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1982. It shares the list with countries such as Iran and Sudan.

U.S. and Cuban officials may have an opportunity to discuss the terror designation on the sidelines of the summit in Panama. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama will be attending.

Meetings possible

Kerry could meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. And U.S. officials say, Obama will interact with Cuban President Raul Castro.

At a Washington forum, Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson said Obama intends to bring up human rights issues during the summit, including in any discussion with Castro.

It would be their first face-to-face talks since the December announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would begin steps to normalize relations, a move that would end the U.S.’ 50-year isolation of Cuba.

En route to Panama, Obama arrived Wednesday evening in Jamaica, a day ahead of planned meetings with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and with other leaders in the 15-member Caribbean Community.

The president also planned to address young leaders in a town hall-style setting before heading to Panama City.

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