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Obama Appoints Veteran Diplomat as Cuba Ambassador

FILE - Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d'affaires to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, speaks in Atlanta, Jan. 18, 2016. President Barack Obama has tapped a career diplomat to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

U.S. President Barack Obama has tapped the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Cuba to be the first ambassador to the island in more than 50 years.

But the appointment of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, which still must be confirmed by the Senate, is likely to set up a fierce fight with Republicans opposed to the normalization of relations with the communist nation.

DeLaurentis has been working at the new U.S. Embassy in Havana since it opened in July last year. Obama said there is "no better qualified public servant."

Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both Republicans, tried to limit funding for the U.S. Embassy in Havana and said they would oppose any ambassador named by Obama.

DeLaurentis, a career diplomat, has served in Havana during the major transition of the one-time Cold War foes to a new relationship that includes re-opening embassies in Washington and Havana, and resuming travel and trade on a limited basis so far.

He would be the first U.S. envoy since Philip Bonsal, an appointee of President Dwight Eisenhower, left the post vacant in late 1960.