Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has welcomed Cuba's decision to hold new talks about migration issues as an early step toward improving relations between the United States and Cuba. Talks on legal and illegal migration have been suspended since 2003.
American officials say the head of Cuba's Interest Section in the United States accepted a U.S. offer to renew talks on legal migration and human smuggling between the island and the United States. The last talks were in 2003, when the Bush administration complained about lack of cooperation from Cuban authorities and suspended later meetings.
During a trip to El Salvador, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said President Obama offered new talks as a way to turn a new page with Cuba.
"These talks are part of our effort to forge a new way forward on Cuba, that advances the interests of the United States, the Cuban people and the entire hemisphere," said Clinton.
Clinton says migration from Cuba is an important national security issue for the United States. U.S. officials say human smugglers have increased trafficking operations from the island into the United States in recent years. Washington offers 20,000 visas for Cubans to travel to the United States, but some Cubans complain that Havana blocks them from leaving the island.
Clinton says the two governments also plan to pursue negotiations on restoring direct postal service between the countries. She says increasing the flow of mail is part of an effort to strengthen contact between Cubans and people off the island, especially family and friends in the United States.
However, Clinton says the new measures do not represent a change in Washington's underlying policy toward the Cuban government.
"We will continue to press the Cuban government to protect basic rights, release political prisoners and move toward democratic reform," she said.
Clinton was in El Salvador for meetings with her counterparts from the Americas, ahead of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, opening in Honduras on Tuesday. OAS delegates are expected to discuss the decades-old decision to exclude Cuba from the group and possible measures to welcome back the Communist government.
Clinton says she does not believe Cuba should rejoin the group until it makes reforms that bring its government in line with other democratic nations in the hemisphere.
"We believe that membership in the OAS comes with responsibilities and that we must all hold each other accountable," Clinton stated. "These responsibilities include abiding by the principles of democracy and human rights enshrined in the OAS charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter."
Clinton is expected to attend the opening of the OAS meeting, Tuesday, before flying to Egypt, where she will join President Obama, later in the week.