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US admits: we’re not sure if new Cuba approach will work

Roberta Jacobson, the highest ranking official to visit Havana in more
than 30 years, said she had no clearer idea if new policy of engagement
will be a success

The highest-ranking US official to visit Cuba in more than three decades
has said that two days of talks on re-establishing full diplomatic
relations left her with no sense of whether the new US policy of
engagement would achieve its goal of generating reforms that benefit the
Cuban people.

The Obama administration says the goal of its Cuban policy remains the
same: creating more freedoms for ordinary Cubans. Cuban diplomats said
throughout the negotiations in Havana that the US needs to abandon hopes
of using closer relations to foment change on the island. Assistant
secretary of state Roberta Jacobson told reporters Friday that the talks
had left her with no clearer idea of whether Obama’s new policy has good
prospects of success.

“It’s very hard to say exactly how this will work,” Jacobson said. “We
think that we need to make decisions in our own interest and take
decisions that are to going to empower the Cuban people, but the verdict
on whether that succeeds is still to be made.”

The United States and Cuba both reported progress toward restoring
diplomatic ties after a half-century of estrangement. But it wasn’t
immediately clear whether the human rights issue, which has previously
blocked closer US-Cuban relations, would pose a threat to the new
diplomatic process.

“Cuba has never responded to pressure,” Josefina Vidal, the country’s
top diplomat for US affairs, told reporters Thursday night.

The comments by Jacobson and Vidal lay bare the pressures each side
faces at home — the US, from Republican leaders in Congress and powerful
Cuban-American groups, and Cuba, from hardliners deeply concerned that
rapprochement could undermine the communist system founded by Fidel Castro.

Earlier in the week, Jacobson hailed the talks as “positive and
productive”, focusing on the mechanics of converting interest sections
into full-fledged embassies headed by ambassadors. But she also spoke of
“profound differences” separating the two governments and said embassies
by themselves would not mean normalized ties.

Along with human rights, Cuba outlined other obstacles in the
relationship. Vidal demanded that Cuba be taken off the US list of state
sponsors of terrorism. However, she praised Obama for easing the US
trade embargo and urging the US Congress to lift it entirely.

“It was a first meeting. This is a process,” Vidal said. In the next
weeks, she said, the US and Cuba will schedule a second round of talks,
which may or may not be the time to finalize an agreement.

Issues on Thursday’s agenda included ending caps on staff, limits on
diplomats’ movements and, in the case of the US building, removing guard
posts and other Cuban structures along the perimeter.

Earlier, the two countries disputed whether human rights had even been
discussed at all. Jacobson said the US raised it in the morning meeting;
Vidal said it had not come up.

Gustavo Machin, Cuba’s deputy chief of North American affairs, later
said the delegations spent time in an afternoon session discussing US
human rights problems — a reference to recent police killings of black
men in Missouri and New York. Cuban state media said the Cuban
delegation also complained about the detention of prisoners at the US
base in Guantanamo Bay.

A US official said the difference in Jacobson’s statements was
unintentional and that the English version – that the US “pressed the
Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom
of expression” – reflected the delegation’s position.

The US and Cuba also talked about human trafficking, environmental
protection, American rules to allow greater telecommunications exports
to Cuba and how to coordinate responses to oil spills or Ebola outbreaks.

The need for at least one future round of talks could set back US hopes
of reopening the embassies before April’s Summit of the Americas, which
Obama and Castro are expected to attend.

Still, after so many years of mutual suspicion, each side stressed the
importance of the collegial atmosphere in Havana that included long
working lunches and a dinner together.

Source: US admits: we’re not sure if new Cuba approach will work | World
news | theguardian.com –
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/23/us-admits-cuba-policy-unsure-success

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