HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and the United States on Friday set an agenda for improving relations, putting a priority on more easily attainable agreements while leaving aside difficult issues such as the U.S. trade embargo and naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba said.
Officials from both countries met in Havana for the first time since the two former Cold War enemies re-established diplomatic relations in July following a 54-year break and reopened embassies in each other’s capitals in July and August.
With diplomatic ties restored, the two sides are going to work on normalizing overall relations. President Barack Obama is attempting to advance normalization as much as possible before his second and final term ends in January 2017.
The two sides put a priority on environmental protection, natural disaster response, health, civil aviation and law enforcement issues such as drug trafficking, Cuban officials said.
A second, more difficult block of issues included human rights, people-trafficking, climate change and epidemics, Cuba said.
A third, longer-term agenda included U.S. claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s claims for more than $300 billion in economic damages from the United States for the embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.“We have set an agenda of things both countries can start working on immediately with the idea of offering results,” Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs and leader of the Cuban delegation in the talks, told reporters.
Cuba reiterated its opposition to the comprehensive U.S. economic embargo, the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo and anti-communist radio and television broadcasts beamed into Cuba, but did not seek to place them on the agenda because they were measures unilaterally imposed by the United States.
“There’s nothing Cuban can do about that,” Vidal said.
Obama supports ending economic sanctions on Cuba, a foreign policy pillar of 10 previous presidents, but only Congress can lift the embargo completely. So far the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill has blocked legislation to do.
On the other hand, the Obama administration has supported the radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba and said repeatedly that Guantanamo was not up for discussion with the Cubans.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Leslie Adler