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US officials urge Obama to remove Cuba from terror list

US State Department officials have asked President Barack Obama to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama has arrived in Panama for the Summit of the Americas.

US President Barack Obama reached Panama on Thursday to attend the Summit of the Americas, where American relations with Cuba were expected to dominate the agenda.

The US President would have a face-to-face meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro and had been advised by the State Department to remove Cuba from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

"The State Department's recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the result of a months-long technical review, is an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba," news agency AFP quoted Senator Ben Cardin as saying.

Cuba's inclusion in the list means that the country is subject to bans on weapons export and economic aids as well as financial sanctions which affect its ability to receive loans from international lenders. The US included Havana in the list in 1982 for harboring Basque terrorists of Spain's ETA and aiding Colombia's FARC rebels.

The terror list has been a big hurdle in US-Cuba relations, but Obama expressed hope after the latest talks between the two governments. "I never foresaw that immediately overnight everything would transform itself, that suddenly Cuba became a partner diplomatically with us the way Jamaica is, for example… That's going to take some time," the US President said earlier.

A breakthrough could also be expected from US Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, the highest level of talks before Obama meets Castro.

The Reuters news agency reported that the two met on Thursday night and held talks behind closed doors at a Panama city hotel.

The US State Department had said earlier that Kerry and Rodriguez had planned to meet on Thursday.

Despite all initiatives, Cuba's exclusion from the terror list would require the Congress approving it. The 45 days required by US lawmakers could prove to be a hurdle as many leaders were against Washington's rapprochement with Havana.

While in Panama, the American leader is to meet Panamanian President Juan Carlos Viejo and other Latin American leaders. Obama might also face a test in the form of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, who has said he plans to hand Obama millions of signatures denouncing US aggression. The US President recently slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan figures, a move that was criticized by several South American nations.

mg,lw/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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