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US presses Cuba on 1970s fugitives

By Associated Press in Havana | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-17 07:17

The United States and Cuba will open talks about two longtime fugitives as part of a new dialogue about law-enforcement cooperation made possible by President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terror, the State Department announced on Wednesday.

Cuban officials and ordinary citizens alike hailed Obama's action to remove the island from the list, saying it heals a decades-old insult to national pride and clears the way to restore diplomatic relations swiftly.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Cuba had agreed to talks about two most-wanted US fugitives: William Morales and Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, was granted asylum by Fidel Castro after she escaped from a US prison where she was serving a sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. The US and Cuba will also discuss the case of Morales, a Puerto Rican nationalist wanted in connection with bombings in New York in the 1970s.

The dialogue is expected to address cooperation on more routine crimes as well, officials said.

A Cuban government spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Wednesday, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for US affairs, recently ruled out any return of political refugees.

Still she said on Tuesday night that "the Cuban government recognizes the president of the United States' just decision to take Cuba off a list in which it should never have been included".

Cuban and US foreign - policy experts said the two governments appeared to have taken a major leap toward the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington after four months of complex and occasionally frustrating negotiations.

"This is important because it speaks to Obama's desire to keep moving forward," said Esteban Morales, a political science professor at the University of Havana. "Now there are no political obstacles. What remains are organizational and technical problems, which can be resolved."

Rathke said Cuba had also provided assurances that Basque nationalists living in Cuba would never be allowed to leave the country to carry out attacks against Spain.

What remains to be seen is whether Cuba will allow US diplomats to move around Cuba and maintain contacts with citizens, including dissidents, the second point of contention in the negotiations on restoring full diplomatic relations.

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