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Cuba and US officials to meet next week to deepen detente


NATASHA BECKLES, [email protected]

Cuba and US officials to meet next week to deepen detente

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HAVANA – Cuba and the United States will meet next week for a third round of talks on improving relations, Havana said on Thursday, adding that the two former Cold War foes were not yet negotiating their multibillion-dollar claims against one another.

A bilateral commission will meet next Monday in the Cuban capital to evaluate the progress made in putting their decades-old conflict behind them, and to identify new areas of cooperation, said Gustavo Machin, the deputy director for US affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry.

“We will set the agenda for the rest for the year,” Machin told a news conference.

“We are not yet negotiating the topic of claims even if there is a recognition on both sides that these exist.”

Cuba and the US re-established diplomatic relations a year ago and have signed agreements on issues of common concern such as the environment, postal services and direct flights.

Many differences remain however. Machin reiterated Cuba’s demands for the return of the Guantanamo naval base and lifting of the US trade embargo.

Cuba complains that some of the policy changes the US has carried out, such as relaxing currency restrictions against the island, have had little real impact given the persistent fear among U.S. institutions of risking government sanctions.

The White House said in March it would allow US banks to process dollar transactions for Cuba as long as neither buyer nor seller were US entities.

“Until now, no bank transactions have been carried out in US currency,” Machin said. “There is still a great fear.”

Cuba has said it will only lift a ten per cent tax on cash dollars once it is clear US banks are processing dollar transactions for the Communist-ruled island.

The issue of reparations is another sticky point. Late last year, Cuba and the US outlined their respective claims, with the former demanding at least $121 billion in reparations for the US trade embargo and other acts it describes as aggressions against the Caribbean country.

The Americans meanwhile are seeking upwards of $10 billion in compensation for nationalised properties.

The third bilateral commission will be led by Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of US affairs, and Kristie Kenney, counsellor for the US State Department. (Reuters)

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