US-Cuba talks on immigration to resume

News from Cuba | Monday, 1 June 2009

By MATTHEW LEE for the Associated Press

Cuba has agreed to resume talks with the Obama administration on legal immigration of Cubans to the United States and direct mail service between the two countries in a move welcomed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"These talks are part of our effort to forge a new way forward on Cuba that advances the interests of the United States, the Cuban people and our entire hemisphere," she said. She added that the Obama administration was "very pleased" with the Cuban decision.

The communist government notified the U.S. on Saturday that it had accepted an administration overture made May 22 to restart the immigration talks, suspended by then-President George W. Bush after the last meeting in 2003. Cuba also expressed a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, and on hurricane disaster preparedness.

"These talks are in the interests of the United States and also in the interests of the Cuban people," Clinton told reporters here after talks with foreign and trade ministers from Latin America.

"At the same time, we will continue to press the Cuban government to protect basic rights release political prisoners, and move toward democratic reform," she said.

Before Clinton left Washington for El Salvador and an onward stop in Honduras, a senior State Department official said the Cuban response was a positive development and "clear signal" that the Obama administration and the Havana government are willing to engage.

The State Department said earlier this month it had proposed restarting the discussions to "reaffirm both sides' commitment to safe, legal and orderly migration, to review trends in illegal Cuban migration to the United States and to improve operational relations with Cuba on migration issues."

In April, President Barack Obama rescinded restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans with family there and on the amount of money they can send to their relatives on the island.

The latest development comes ahead of Clinton's participation at a meeting Tuesday in Honduras where Cuba's possible readmission to the Organization of American States is expected to be discussed.

U.S. officials say they are ready to support lifting the resolution that suspended Cuba from the 34-country group. But they insist on linking the island's readmission to democratic reforms under a charter the organization adopted in 2001.

Before the U.S.-Cuban talks were suspended in 2003, the twice-yearly meetings in alternating countries had been the highest level contacts between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations. Cuban officials were angered when the Bush administration decided to scuttle the talks on grounds they were not crucial for monitoring agreements aimed at preventing a mass exodus from the island.

The talks were created so the countries could track adherence to 1994 and 1995 accords designed to promote legal, orderly migration between the two countries. The aim was to avoid a repeat of the summer of 1994, when tens of thousands of Cubans took to the sea in flimsy boats.

On U.S.-Cuban mail, previously material between the countries had to go through third countries. The post office advises people to check with the Treasury Department for rules governing what can be sent to Cuba.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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