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U.S., Cuba Agree to Resume Talks on Immigration, Direct Mail

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr. | Staff Writer | 01 June 2009
Close-up of video monitor (AP Images)

Flights arriving from Havana, Cuba, are listed on a monitor at Miami International Airport.

Washington — Cuban officials signaled to the United States that they want to resume talks on the legal immigration of Cubans to the United States and resume direct mail service between the two nations, a senior U.S. official says.

The Cubans also indicated they want to hold talks with the United States on drug trafficking, fighting terrorism, and hurricane and disaster preparedness and response, the senior State Department official said during a background briefing May 31.

A date and time for the meetings has to be worked out, he said. Previously, talks with the Cubans rotated between New York and Havana.

The Cuban government sent a response May 30 to a May 22 offer to resume long-suspended immigration talks. The talks were suspended by President Bush in 2003.

The opening follows President Obama’s announcement April 13 that the United States will allow Cuban Americans unlimited travel to Cuba and money transfers to family in Cuba. Cuban Americans may also send clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities to family members. Businesses will be able to obtain licenses to sell cellular telephones, television services and computers to Cubans, and to permit family members in the United States to pay for them.

The senior State Department official said the department has already begun coordinating with the U.S. Postal Service to launch the direct mail service talks.

On legal immigration, the United States gives up to approximately 20,000 visas annually for Cubans to travel to the United States, the senior official said. “Our goal has always been safe, orderly and legal migration,” he said.

“President Obama made it very clear in Trinidad and Tobago [at the fifth Summit of the Americas] that he was intent on building a new kind of relationship with Cuba in which dialogue would play a role,” the senior official said. “It’s our hope that … the [Organization of American States and] other international organizations should support and foster this development, as opposed to hinder it.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends the 39th OAS General Assembly meeting in Honduras June 2. A significant issue that emerged at the Summit of the Americas is whether to readmit Cuba to the regional organization. The OAS expelled Cuba in 1962 after the regime of Fidel Castro moved to join the Communist bloc nations.

Clinton has said the United States would support readmitting Cuba to the OAS when the government accepts democratic principles. “They have to be willing to take the concrete steps necessary to meet those principles. We’ve been very clear about that — move toward democracy, release political prisoners, respect fundamental freedoms,” Clinton testified before Congress.

TWO-TRACK APPROACH

The United States has taken a two-track approach to improving relations with Cuba, the senior State Department official said. The first track is to work on improving the well-being of the Cuban people and to improve their relations with the outside world, he said.

“That involved lifting of restrictions on family travel, lifting restrictions on remittances, lifting restrictions on gift packages, and also asking our Treasury Department to revise the regulations regarding U.S. participation in telecommunications to Cuba’s telecommunications sector,” the official said.

The second track is government-to-government, he said. “The idea is to identify areas of dialogue that are mutually beneficial to both countries,” he said. “And we’re starting in a place that is familiar to both countries, migration talks, and important to both countries.”

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