Historic U.S.-Cuba talks shift to restoring diplomatic ties

Reuters

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Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America and Cuba Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee talks to the media during negotiations to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba in Havana January 21, 2015 Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America and Cuba Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee talks to the media during negotiations to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba in Havana January 21, 2015

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The United States and Cuba launch talks on Thursday on restoring diplomatic relations after a contentious session on immigration accentuated the difficulties in overcoming half a century of hostilities. 
The highest-level U.S. delegation in 35 years will conclude two-day talks in Havana on Thursday, with both sides cautioning an immediate breakthrough was unlikely. 
Senior U.S. officials say they hope Cuba will agree to reopen embassies and appoint ambassadors in each other's capitals in coming months. 
The United States also wants travel curbs on its diplomats lifted and unimpeded shipments to its mission in Havana. 
During talks on Wednesday, the Americans vowed to continue granting safe haven to Cubans with special protections denied to other nationalities. 
Cuba complained the U.S. law promotes dangerous illegal immigration and protested against a separate U.S. program that encourages Cuban doctors to defect, calling it a "reprehensible brain drain practice." 
As her deputy sparred with the Cuban officials over immigration policy, the lead U.S. negotiator in the diplomatic talks, Roberta Jacobson, arrived in Havana aboard a commercial charter from Miami. 
She became the first U.S. assistant secretary of state to travel to the communist-led island in 38 years and the highest-ranking visitor in 35 years. 
Her Cuban counterpart will be Josefina Vidal, director of the foreign ministry's U.S. affairs, who also participated in the immigration talks. 
The meetings are the first since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would work to restore diplomatic ties snapped by Washington in 1961. 
Despite resistance from some in Congress, Obama has set the United States on a path toward removing economic sanctions and a 53-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday he looked forward to formally opening a U.S. embassy in Cuba. 
Kerry also said he was prepared, when the time was right, to meet his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, with whom he has only talked by telephone. 
"And when it is timely, when it is appropriate, I look forward to traveling to Cuba in order to formally open an embassy and begin to move forward," Kerry told reporters in Washington. 
In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Obama urged Congress to start work on ending the embargo but critics say Obama first needs to win concessions on Cuban political prisoners and democratic rights, the claims of U.S. citizens whose property was nationalized after Cuba's 1959 revolution, and U.S. fugitives who have received asylum in Cuba.

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