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US, Cuba Set for 2nd Round of Talks on Diplomatic Ties

A police officer walks in the middle of Indonesian union workers protesting against a government tax amnesty, on their way to the presidential palace in Jakarta.

U.S. and Cuban officials will sit down for a second round of talks on Friday to discuss the process of restoring diplomatic ties. After having an initial meeting in Havana in January, the two sides now will meet in Washington to talk about issues that include the process for reopening embassies.

As the two sides prepare to discuss diplomatic relations, there are continued questions about Cuba’s human rights record, as well as its designation by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel is part of a U.S. delegation that recently visited Cuba. He said U.S. officials raised the issue of human rights in all of their meetings with Cuban officials.

“I believe the ball is now in the Cuban government’s court to respond by ending the harassment of political activists and releasing political prisoners,” said Engel.

As Secretary of State John Kerry testified before a House panel Wednesday, Republican lawmaker Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the Cuban government has arrested more than 300 opposition activists within the past two weeks.

She said among them was Berta Soler, a leading dissident who recently testified in Washington.

“She returned to Cuba on a Saturday. She was arrested Sunday. Yet, the U.S.-Castro talks are still scheduled to go on here at the State Department on Friday,“ said Ros-Lehtinen.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Cuba should be judged by its future actions.

“Don’t measure it by where it is today. Measure it by what begins to happen as this process of normalization takes place and we have an opportunity to be able to press those issues,” said Kerry.

A senior State Department official says Cuba’s human rights record is not expected to be a focal point of Friday’s talks, but that the U.S. hopes to set up dates for future dialogue on the issue.

The official said having that dialogue is likely to be more effective after the two countries move forward with reopening embassies and restoring diplomatic ties.

Some Cuban officials also have indicated that they want to link the country’s removal from the state sponsor of terrorism list to re-establishing ties. The State Department official says that, for now, the two processes remain separate.