Washington has abstained from a UN resolution calling for an end to the US trade embargo against Cuba. The failure to bring about change in Cuba prompted President Obama to try a different tack: diplomacy.
The United States has voted against resolutions condemning its embargo of Cuba for the past 24 years. Last year, 191 members of the UN General Assembly voted for the resolution, with only the United States and Israel voting against it.
Such resolutions are legally non-binding, but they do carry political weight.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told the General Assembly on Wednesday, "The United States has always voted against this resolution. Today the United States will abstain."
Her announcement drew loud applause from the hall of diplomats.
She stressed, however, that abstaining "does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government."
"We do not," Power said. "We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit."
Divided on human rights
But she added that the United States and Cuba must continue to find ways to engage, even as differences persist over human rights.
"Today, we have taken another small step to be able to do that," Power said. "May there be many more - including, we hope, finally ending the US embargo."
US President Barack Obama has moved to ease trade and travel restrictions placed on Cuba, but only the US Congress can lift the full embargo.
The US trade embargo was first imposed in 1960, two years after Cuba's elected President Fulgencio Batista was ousted in a Communist coup led by Fidel Castro. The embargo was intended to strangle the Castro regime, but more than 50 years later the Castro regime endures, although it is now led by Fidel's younger brother Raul.
In 2015, Obama re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba, paving the way for direct travel and limited commerce between the two countries.
So far, the Republican-led US Congress has shown no inclination to lift the embargo.
bik/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)