US, Cuba close round of talks with no embassy announcement


WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States and Cuba still have no agreement on re-establishing embassies.

Five months after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced their intention to improve ties, the former foes on Friday completed a fourth round of negotiations without ironing out enough of the differences that have accumulated over a half-century of estrangement to restore diplomatic relations.

However, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, insisted the two sides were “much closer” to that goal after a “highly productive” session.

Cuba said the talks would continue, but gave no date for a future next round. Jacobson said another high-profile gathering might not be necessary.

Appearing first in back-to-back news conferences, the communist government’s top diplomat for the United States, Josefina Vidal, was circumspect. She avoided any description of the remaining obstacles to restoring diplomatic relations and offered no criticism of the United States, but said two days of discussions in Washington focused on “every aspect of the functioning of embassies and the behavior of diplomats.”

Even as many of the biggest hurdles have been cleared, Washington and Havana are still wrangling over American demands that its diplomats be able to travel throughout Cuba and meet dissidents without restrictions. The Cubans are wary of activity they see as destabilizing to their government.

“We are confident that when we get to an agreement, our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their job as they do worldwide,” a similarly careful Jacobson responded when asked about the matter.

Cuba comes off the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list on May 29, removing a designation that carries financial repercussions. And its Interests Section in Washington now has a U.S.-based bank account, meaning it doesn’t have to operate on cash anymore. Obama also has moved to significantly loosen the American trade embargo on the island.

U.S. gains have been less apparent.

Both the U.S. and Cuba say the embassies are a first step in a larger process of “normalizing” relations. That effort would still have to tackle bigger questions such as the embargo, which only Congress can fully revoke, as well as the future of Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s democracy record.

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