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US removes Cuba from terror-sponsors list

The US has removed Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism. The State Department aims to pave the way towards normalizing ties. However, the removal will have more symbolic than practical significance.

Secretary of State John Kerry "has made the final decision to rescind Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015," the State Department said in a statement on Friday.

US President Barack Obama had announced

on April 14

that he would drop the former Cold War rival from the list, initiating a 45-day review period for Congress that expired on Friday May 29.

Overlapping sanctions as obstacle

The official announcement removes a prohibition on receiving US economic aid, a ban on US arms exports and controls on the so-called "dual-use" items with military and civilian applications.

But those bans remain in place under other, overlapping US sanctions, since Cuba is still subject to a wider US economic embargo that has been put in place in 1962. Hence the removal has more symbolic than practical importance.

On the list since 1982

Washington put Cuba on its terrorism blacklist in 1982, when Havana supported armed guerrilla movements in Latin America.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro

opened the door

to restoring relations in December 2014 with an exchange of prisoners. Cuban and US officials have been travelling back and forth

to meetings.

However, officials said the talks have made progress, but nothing concrete was announced at the last round, held in Washington a week ago.

Friday's decision means only Iran, Sudan and Syria remain on the State Department's blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

In then-President George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union address, Cuba famously made his list of countries in an "Axis of Evil" - along with Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and North Korea. This came more than a decade after the Cold War's end and despite Cuba's lacking links to terror groups like al Qaeda. This was criticized, even at home by supporters of Bush' foreign policy, as a hangover of Cold War policy.

ra/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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