Saturday 10 December 2016

US agrees to formally reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of hostilities

Published 01/07/2015 | 16:58

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The United States and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in each other's capitals, as the countries bid to restore ties after more than a half-century of hostilities.

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President Barack Obama is expected to announce the agreement at the White House. The Cuban Foreign Ministry said the embassies in Washington and Havana would open July 20.

The US and Cuba have been negotiating the re-establishment of embassies following a surprise December announcement that secret talks had led to an agreement to restart diplomatic relations.

For Mr Obama, ending the US freeze with Cuba is central to his foreign policy legacy as he nears the end of his presidency.

Mr Obama has long touted the value of direct engagement with global foes and has argued that the US embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.

Ahead of Mr Obama's remarks, the top US diplomat in Havana delivered a letter from the White House to Cuba about restoring embassies in the countries' respective capitals.

US Interests Section chief Jeffrey DeLaurentis arrived at the Cuban Foreign Ministry in Havana on Wednesday morning to hand-deliver the message.

The US cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution. The US spent decades trying to either actively overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including toughening the economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D Eisenhower.

Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other's capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and do not enjoy the same status as embassies.

While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the US and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations.

Among them: talks on human rights; demands for compensation for confiscated American properties in Havana and damages to Cuba from the embargo; and possible cooperation on law enforcement, including the touchy topic of US fugitives sheltering in Havana.

Cuban president Raul Castro said he was "pleased" to confirm his country will resume diplomatic ties with the US.

Mr Castro wrote in a letter to Mr Obama that Cuba is doing so because it is "encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful relations and co-operation between our people and governments".

But a separate statement from the government says reopening embassies is just the first step in "a long and complex process toward normalisation of bilateral ties".

It demands an end to the US embargo, the return of the US naval base at Guantanamo, a halt to US radio and TV broadcasts aimed at the other island and other grievances.

Mr Castro's letter and the government statement were read out by a presenter on state television.

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