World / US and Canada

US, Cuba cautious about timing of ambassadors

By Agencies in Havana, Cuba (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-14 07:44

Trade embargo, return of Guantanamo key sticking points in normalizing of relations

Cuba and the US will name ambassadors to each other's countries after the island is removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism later this month, Cuban President Raul Castro said on Tuesday.

Castro spoke to journalists at Havana's international airport after seeing off visiting French President Francois Hollande.

"Many people are wondering and criticizing why we are going very slowly" with the negotiations, Castro said. "Why do we have to rush to make mistakes?"

"We don't want to take any measures that would sacrifice our people. That's the most important thing," Castro was quoted as saying by Havana-based news agency Prensa Latina.

He urged Washington to lift its trade embargo against the island nation, and called for the return of Guantanamo, which Cuba maintains the US occupies illegally. The two conditions were expected to be key to normalization of the relationship between the two countries.

The United States and Cuba have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961. Currently they have lower-level missions, called Interests Sections, in each other's countries, under the protection of the Swiss government.

US President Barack Obama announced in April his decision to remove Cuba from the terror list, which was seen a major obstacle for the opening of embassies. A 45-day waiting period that would give Congress time to take action on Obama's decision ends on May 29.

Havana has long described the terror designation as unjustified and unfair.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said he couldn't confirm Cuba's timeline for an exchange of ambassadors. He said such a step would be logical once diplomatic relations are re-established.

Castro and Obama announced in December they would work toward a restoration of diplomatic relations after more than a half century.

Regarding the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, Castro said the terms of restricted movements of US diplomats around the island needed further discussion, as well as the same restrictions for Cuban diplomats in the US.

Washington wants its diplomats to be able to travel freely on the island without seeking Cuban government permission beforehand, as they do in Russia, China and Vietnam. However, Cuba said such restrictions are necessary.

"What concerns me most is that US diplomats will continue to do here the illegal things they have been doing all along and that cannot be allowed," Castro said, adding they must adhere to international agreements on the subject adopted in the 1948 Vienna Convention.

The Cuban president also said on Tuesday that Castro had expressed his concerns to Obama about US diplomats offering classes to independent journalists at the US Interests Section in Havana, an activity he characterized as illegal.

AP - Xinhua

(China Daily 05/14/2015 page12)

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