U.S., Cuba Said Ready to Announce Reopening of Embassies

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The U.S. and Cuba will announce on Wednesday the restoration of diplomatic relations and plans to reopen embassies after 54 years, according to a U.S. official.

A White House statement will confirm the planned reopenings, which won’t come before mid-July, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.

The upgrading of diplomatic missions in Havana and Washington to embassies will help fulfill a pledge by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro to work toward improving diplomatic relations, announced in televised addresses on Dec. 17. At a summit in Panama in April, the two leaders met and reiterated that their efforts to reopen embassies didn’t mean they were ignoring their differences.

“We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient,” Castro said on April 11. “We might disagree on something today that we may agree on tomorrow.”

Obama and Castro will exchange letters on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and the State Department will send Congress the required 15 days’ notice before upgrading the U.S. Interests Section in Havana into an embassy, the U.S. official said.

Ambassador Selection

Obama hasn’t said who he’ll nominate for ambassador. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the U.S. chief of mission in Cuba, automatically will become the charge d’affaires until an ambassador is confirmed. Opponents of Obama’s outreach to Cuba have said they will lead a fight against Senate confirmation of an ambassador.

Word of the embassy reopenings brought renewed criticism from a U.S. lawmaker who’s among those opposed to normalizing ties with Cuba’s Communist regime, citing its poor record on human rights.

“Not surprisingly, this administration has shown that politics trump policy in its decision-making process,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida. “Opening the American embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”

In six months of talks between U.S. and Cuban diplomats the two sides had to resolve issues including removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism -- a move that took effect on May 29 -- and finding a U.S. bank willing to offer services for Cuba’s diplomatic office in Washington.

U.S. Demands

The Cuban government wanted the U.S. to end its programs to promote democracy on the island, a condition the Obama administration rejected.

Ultimately, the countries agreed on reciprocal procedures that provided adequate resolution of U.S. demands, including access to the embassy in Havana for Cubans and travel around the country for diplomats without overly burdensome restrictions.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana is housed in the former U.S. Embassy, which will again take that title.

For years, the building was the site of dueling propaganda battles between the U.S., which erected signs in favor of political prisoners, and Cuba’s government, which rallied supporters outside the walls.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower cut diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 after President Fidel Castro’s decision to nationalize foreign assets, including U.S. property, on the Caribbean island. In 1962, the U.S. used diplomatic back channels with the Soviet Union to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For more, read this QuickTake: Cuba-U.S. Reboot

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