High-level US-Cuba talks yield no progress on top disputes -Cuban official

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio speaks with Reuters in an interview in Havana

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. and Cuban officials made progress on a range of issues during high-level talks in Washington this week but were unable to narrow differences over the biggest disputes between the countries, Cuba’s vice foreign minister said on Thursday.

Cuba’s main concerns are that it remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the Biden administration’s continuation of Washington’s Cold War-era economic embargo against the Communist-ruled island.

In an interview with Reuters, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said: “We believe that it is unreasonable for the United States to continue to carry out a policy with which it disagreed before coming into office, that they know is hurting the Cuban population as a whole."

He said progress was made in talks on migration issues and cooperation in law enforcement, health, science and technology. “We welcome them, but they're not the defining factor, the overriding issue,” De Cossio told Reuters.

A State Department official said U.S. law includes exemptions and authorizations for exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba. "President Biden remains committed to policies that will advance the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people," the official added.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, last year partially rolled back some Trump-era restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba. Havana said his measures were insufficient.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, had designated Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism before leaving office in January 2021. This was part of Trump’s reversal of rapprochement with Cuba initiated by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller confirmed that De Cossio met on Monday with Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Asked whether any progress had been made in a long-running review of whether to lift terrorism-sponsor designation, he told reporters: “We have not made a determination that I can report today."

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel will continue to press on the issue this month when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly, De Cossio said.

U.S. officials also reiterated their call for Cuba to release detainees, but Cuban officials countered by asking Washington to discuss prisoners held in the U.S., De Cossio said.

The Biden administration, which condemned Cuba for a crackdown on anti-government protesters in July 2021, considers those arrested to be political prisoners.

Cuba says those detained had violated Cuban law and received fair trials and sentences.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Stephen Coates and David Gregorio)