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Cuba, U.S. begin talks on restoring ties

The two-day talks, part of a planned restoration of ties, began with optimism.

By Ed Adamczyk
Cuba, U.S. begin talks on restoring ties
Alan Gross (C), the US contractor released from prison in Cuba last month, is applauded during US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. Pool Photo by Mandel Ngan/UPI | License Photo

HAVANA , Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The United States and Cuba disagreed on immigration policy during talks in Havana, their first high-level negotiations in years.

U.S. diplomats arrived in Havana for talks Wednesday and Thursday for the first official consultations since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a thaw in relations after animosity dating to the early 1960s, but little progress was made on agendas likely to require additional negotiation.

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Josefina Vidal of the Cuban Foreign Ministry was publicly critical of U.S. immigration policy which allowed Cubans entering the United States illegally to remain there, calling it a "principal incentive and stimulus" for defectors from Cuba. Her U.S. counterpart, Alex Lee, said the policy would not change, adding the United States "is committed to ensuring that migration remains safe, legal and orderly."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson joined the talks late Wednesday, which concern broader issues involving the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. She is the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet with the Cuban government since 1980.

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A senior Cuban diplomat told reporters Wednesday, "Cuba isn't normalizing relations with the United States. Cuba is re-establishing diplomatic relations with the US. The process of normalization is much longer and deeper."

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Cuba also seeks its removal from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorists. A Cuban negotiator said leaving the list is not a precondition for a restoration of ties between the two countries, but called it "inconceivable" that ties could be negotiated if Cuba stays "unfairly on that list." It shares a spot on the list with Sudan, Iran and Syria, but for harboring Basque militants who oppose the Spanish government and for allegedly harboring a number of U.S. fugitives.

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