Amid Thaw, Cuban Television Gets in Questions at White House

The questions weren’t unusual. That they were asked at all was historic.

In the White House briefing room Thursday the chief spokesman for President Barack Obama entertained a question from Cuban state television, the latest sign of the thaw in a relationship that’s been frozen for more than half a century.

The Cuban reporter, Cristina Escobar, followed the example of her U.S. counterparts, rattling off four questions and two follow-ups. Among them, would Obama travel to Havana, and is the U.S. “committed to being more respectful” of conventions for the behavior of U.S. diplomats in Havana?

Obama “would relish the opportunity to visit the island of Cuba,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told her.

Regarding diplomats, he said, one of the sticking points in talks between the U.S. and Cuba has been restrictions on the movements of American representatives. U.S. embassy personnel will do in Cuba what they do around the world, “which is to not just engage the leaders of the government, but also to engage the people,” Earnest said.

Members of the Cuban media are in Washington to cover talks at the State Department on Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Havana.

In December, Obama announced a dramatic shift in Cuba policy, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties and ease restrictions on travel and trade. Last month, Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro held a historic meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Escobar asked whether there was a chance Obama might travel to Havana before the end of his term.

“I know there’s one person particularly that hopes President Obama will be in Havana at some point in the, at some point in the relatively recent future, and that’s President Obama himself,” he said.

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