The United States and Cuba have closed two days of talks in Havana with some progress toward restoring diplomatic ties after half a century of estrangement. Both Washington and Havana have agreed to meet again.
In the first face-to-face talks since last month's declaration of detente, the two countries laid out a detailed agenda for re-establishing full diplomatic relations.
Roberta Jacobson, the top US diplomat for Latin America, hailed the first session as positive and productive. "We have to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust," the US official told reporters. But she also spoke of "profound differences" separating the two governments.
A major sticking point in the negotiations is the US trade embargo against Cuba. US president Barack Obama has loosened restrictions and asked Congress to start lifting the embargo.
"It was a first meeting," said Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for US affairs. "This is a process." In the next weeks, the United States and Cuba will schedule a second round of talks, which may or may not be the time to finalize an agreement, Vidal added.
Human rights discussed?
The two delegations disputed whether the topic of human rights had come up. Jacobson said that Washington had raised the issue.
"As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression," Jacobson said.
Vidal said the topic had not come up. "Cuba has never responded to pressure," she said.
Later, however, Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy chief of North American affairs, said the delegations had discussed human rights issues in the United States, including the recent police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
State media also reported that the Cuban delegation had complained about the detention of prisoners at the US base in Guantanamo Bay.
Cuban negotiators also told the Americans they wanted their country to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Additionally, Thursday's talks covered what it would take for the two countries to reopen their embassies, including ending caps on staff, limits on diplomats' movements, and removing guard posts and other structures along the perimeter of the US building in Havana.
The delegations also talked about human trafficking, environmental protection, allowing greater US telecommunications exports to Cuba, and how to coordinate responses to events such as oil spills or Ebola outbreaks.
The two days of historic talks were the first since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on December 17 that they would work to restore diplomatic ties, which the United States severed in 1961, two years after Raul's brother Fidel took power and began implementing his form of communist rule.
jil/mkg (AP, Reuters)