WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tentative plans for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Cuba before mid-March for a human rights dialogue have been canceled, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, amid concerns over the Cuban government’s human rights record.
Kerry told a congressional hearing on Feb. 23 that he might be in Cuba “in the next week or two” to hold a dialogue on human rights, ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled trip to the island on March 21-22.
The sources said the trip had been canceled because U.S. and Cuban officials were deep in negotiations on issues including which dissidents Obama might see in Havana and that a trip in the timeframe Kerry had mentioned was not seen as constructive.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said he had no updates regarding Kerry’s potential travel to Cuba.
“The Secretary is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best timeframe,” Kirby said in an emailed statement.
U.S. critics of Obama’s opening to Cuba have complained that the president has received little in return for restoring diplomatic relations with the former Cold War foe.
On Feb. 24, the Cuban government granted seven dissidents who were out of prison on parole a one-time permission to travel outside the country in an apparent gesture to the United States ahead of Obama’s historic visit.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Sandra Maler