U.S., Cuba conclude talks on diplomatic ties, with remaining differences

Havana, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) — The United States and Cuba on Thursday ended the historic talks on restoring diplomatic relations, but both sides admitted “profound differences” still remain and much needs to be done before normalization of bilateral relations.

It was the second day of the first high-level meeting held between Cuba and the United States since the surprising announcement on Dec. 17 by President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro about restoring the bilateral diplomatic ties broken off in January 1961.

Thursday’s meeting was held at the Havana Convention Palace, with the Cuban delegation headed by Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. Affairs Department at the Foreign Relations Ministry (Minrex), and the U.S. delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson is the highest-level U.S. official visiting Cuba in nearly four decades.

Jacobson described the Thursday’s talks as “positive and productive.”

“We talked in real and concrete terms the necessary steps for the restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries,” said Jacobson. “We talked about the opening of embassies in our respective countries and how we expect to operate the US Embassy in Havana.”

According to Jacobson, both sides discussed the measures to be taken for restoring the relations as quickly as possible, but recognized that retaking the formal ties will be a “lengthy” process, because of the conflicting point of views and the ” profound differences” on other issues, such as Cuba’s human rights record.

“We have to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust. There are things we have to discuss before we can establish that relationship,” said Jacobson, who hinted more negotiations to be held in the future, but failed to specify the dates.

Cuban officials also praised the openness of Thursday’s meeting, stressing that issues including “respect for the independence of our people,” the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on the island are important on the road of normalization of bilateral relations. They also reiterated Cuba’s willingness to continue a respectful dialogue with the U.S. government based on sovereign equality and reciprocity, without prejudice to the national independence and the self-determination of Cuban people.

“No one can expect that Cuba, for improving the relations with America, will give up its principles,” said Josefina Vidal, the Minrex official.

The bilateral diplomatic relations must be based on the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter, including sovereign equality, equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and the non-intervention in the internal affairs of States, Vidal said.

She stressed that after these negotiations the island nation ” will not accept the surviving” of the economic blockade imposed by Washington over 50 years ago and insisted Cuba’s status on the U.S. list of “countries sponsoring terrorism” should be changed.

Thursday’s talks between Cuba and the U.S. were divided into two sessions: the reestablishing of the diplomatic relations in the morning, and in the afternoon discussions focusing on “issues of bilateral interest,” such as the cooperation in fighting against terrorism, drug dealing and human trafficking.

Both sides clashed vehemently over immigration policy Wednesday at the first session of the two-day high-level meeting aiming to restore diplomatic relations between two countries. At Wednesday’s meeting, the Cuban side expressed its disagreement about the U.S.’ Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy, saying those policies of the United States “contradict the spirit of the migration accords, and continue to be the main stimulus to the illegal migration, human traffic, and illegal entries into the United States of Cuban citizens.”