US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez held a closed-door meeting in Panama City late Thursday in the highest-level talks between the former adversaries in over five decades.
Kerry and Rodriguez smiled for the cameras and shook hands. The last time the chief diplomats from Cuba and the United States met was 1958, one year before Fidel Castro's revolutionaries came to power. The two met on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which Cuba is participating in for the first time.
The presidents of the two countries, Barack Obama and Raul Castro, also landed in Panama ahead of their own historic meeting set for Friday and Saturday, marking another milestone in their efforts to reestablish ties.
Obama urged to remove Cuba from terror list
As the US moves towards a thaw with Cuba, an American senator indicated that the State Department had recommended removing Havana from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, removing another diplomatic hurdle.
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a member of the foreign relations committee, said the removal was "an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba." On a stopover in Jamaica ahead of the Panama summit, President Obama confirmed that the State Department had conducted a review of Cuba's status on the list, but declined to give details on their recommendation.
Having Cuba's name on the list, which also includes Syria, Sudan, and Iran, means that the island nation is subject to a ban on economic aid as well as financial sanctions that make it difficult to get World Bank and other loans.
Obama said the overall talks on reestablishing diplomatic relations were progressing as he expected, saying it wasn't going to happen "immediately overnight," but that he did think "we'll be in a position to move forward on the opening of embassies in respective countries."
es/jil (AFP, Reuters)