KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the U.S. State Department had completed its review of whether to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism but that he was waiting for a recommendation from his advisers.
Speaking in Jamaica, where he is on a short visit, Obama said he would not announce a Cuba decision on Thursday.
Removing Cuba from the list would clear a major obstacle in the effort to restore diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, paving the way for the reopening of embassies that have been shut for 54 years, and signal momentum in ending America’s isolation from the Communist island nation.
“That review has been completed at the State Department. It is now forwarded to the White House. Our inter-agency team will go through the entire thing and then present it to me with a recommendation. That hasn’t happened yet,” Obama said.
“I won’t make a formal announcement today about what those recommendations are,” he said.
Obama ordered the review after announcing a diplomatic breakthrough with Havana on Dec. 17 and has vowed to act quickly once he receives the recommendation.
Obama did not signal how he was leaning, but his previous statements have suggested that he would approve taking Cuba off the list.
Cuba was added to the list of terrorism sponsors in 1982, when it was aiding Marxist insurgencies in Colombia and elsewhere. Other countries on the list include Iran, Sudan and Syria.
After Jamaica, Obama is traveling to Panama for a summit with Latin American leaders where he will meet Cuban President Raul Castro for the first since the December announcement.
Obama said he expected the two countries would be in a position to move forward on opening embassies, though he did not lay out a time frame.
“I never foresaw that immediately overnight everything would transform itself, that suddenly Cuba became a partner diplomatically with us the way Jamaica is, for example,” he said.
“We’re confident that this process of engagement will ultimately lead to not just improved relations between the United States and Cuba, but will also end up being beneficial for the Cuban people and give them the kinds of opportunities that they might not have in the past.”
Writing by Jeff Mason; editing by Jason Szep, Christian Plumb and Ted Botha