March 2, 2015 / 9:44 PM / in 3 years

Cuba signals readiness to fast-track U.S. diplomatic ties

MIAMI/HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba is willing to restore diplomatic relations with the United States as soon as the Obama administration declares its intent to take the country off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to a senior Cuban official.

The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, appears at a news conference during talks between the United States and Cuba at the State Department in Washington February 27, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

That could take place before both sides are ready to open embassies, Josefina Vidal, the head of the United States division at the Cuban Foreign Ministry told state media.

It is the first time Cuba has said publicly it is willing to restore relations before it is removed from the list.

Delinking the opening of embassies could make it easier for diplomatic relations - broken 54 years ago - to be renewed prior to a regional heads of state summit in Panama on April 10-11.

“In our view it’s not necessary to put it all in one package because if, for example, in a few weeks we receive some satisfactory notification in regards to the matter of Cuba’s removal from terrorist list, I think we will be ready to then begin talking about how to formalize the re-establishing of relations,” Vidal said in an interview published on Sunday in Cubadebate.

Asked if he expected to have relations with Cuba restored before the summit, president Obama told Reuters in an exclusive interview on Monday: “My hope is that we will be able to open an embassy and that some of the initial groundwork will have been laid.”

A state department representative said: “We believe re-establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of embassies should be done together. With will on both sides, we can get them done before the Summit.”

The White House wants to restore relations before the Panama summit to strengthen Obama’s hand with other Latin American countries who have been critical of the U.S. policy for decades.

U.S. and Cuban officials have held two rounds of talks since the Dec. 17 announcement they would work toward normalizing relations.

At talks on Friday, Cuba said removal from the list was a “priority” not a pre-condition for re-establishing relations. Cuba also raised a logistical issue - the lack of a bank willing to accept its account because of U.S. sanctions on banks that do business with countries on the list.

The Obama administration is nearing completion of its review of Cuba’s place on the list, which must be submitted to Congress before the country can be removed after a 45-day wait period, U.S. officials say.

Friday’s talks ended on a positive note. Although no date for the renewal of relations - or the next round of talks - was announced, the head of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, said she was “optimistic” about the renewal of relations before the Panama summit.

Vidal told Cubadebate that, if Cuba got word the Obama administration was recommending the removal from the terrorism list, diplomatic ties could go forward without a prior resolution of the banking issue.

“We could say: ‘OK, let’s re-establish relations’ and the opening of the embassies are deferred until a later time, when there are appropriate conditions,” Vidal said.

Cuba was added to the terrorism sponsors list in 1982 when it backed insurgencies during the Cold War.

Writing by David Adams. Reporting by David Adams in Miami, Daniel Trotta in Havana and Jeff Mason in Washington. Editing by Andre Grenon

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