The United States and Cuba appear poised to hit a new milestone toward normalizing relations, with President Barack Obama expected to announce this week that he will remove the communist-led country from the administration’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Obama, who is en route to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, said Thursday that the State Department had finished its review of Cuba’s placement on the list, but that he had not yet received a formal recommendation as to whether to de-list the island nation.
“I won’t make a formal announcement today about what those recommendations are until I have them,” Obama said while on a stop in Jamaica.
Still, it is widely anticipated that Obama will take Cuba off the terrorist list, easing the path toward restoring diplomatic ties with Havana after decades of hostility while also boosting the United States’ standing in Latin America, where many still bear resentment from U.S. support for authoritarian leaders in the past. Obama is expected to see Cuban President Raul Castro at the summit, which starts Friday.
“What’s happening now is basically a turning of the page away from an approach to dealing with the region in Cold War terms,” said Carl Meacham, a Latin America expert and former senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The signal event is that the United States has chosen not to continue having the same policy toward Cuba that it’s had for like 50 years that was rooted in the Cold War and Cold War thinking.”
Vice President Joe Biden speaks about U.S. policy in Iraq, Thursday, April 9, 2015, at the National Defense University in Washington, in advance of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Washington, next week. The vice president was to discuss Iraq’s political and military progress, and the work that lies ahead to defeat ISIL and forge a more inclusive Iraq. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Obama administration officials declined to comment Thursday on the State Department review’s conclusions. But Obama has suggested that he is eager to press forth with his initiative to restore ties with Cuba, which he unveiled in December. De-listing Cuba would smooth the way toward other elements of the normalization, including reopening embassies in the two countries.
However, de-listing Cuba is expected to be opposed by many in Congress, including likely 2016 presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has criticized Obama’s plans to improve ties with Havana.
Amid reports that the State Department recommendation was imminent, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat who opposes Obama on the issue, issued a statement saying that removing Cuba from the terror list “would represent another significant misstep in a misguided policy.”
“This decision would also ignore the fact that Cuba is harboring dozens of American fugitives — including cop killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers and arms traffickers — and Basque terrorists wanted by the government of Spain,” Menendez said on Wednesday.
As a reminder of how sensitive the Cuba-U.S. relationship remains, a group of pro-Castro supporters hassled a group of Cuban dissidents Wednesday in Panama City ahead of the two-day summit. The State Department condemned “those who use violence against peaceful protesters.”
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