US senator in Cuba says normal relations ‘weeks away’
BY BEN FOX
The historic process of restoring long-severed diplomatic relationship
between the U.S. and Cuba that began Dec. 17 will likely come to a
successful end in a matter of weeks, a U.S. senator said during a visit
to the island Wednesday.
A 45-day period for Congress to challenge a decision by President Barack
Obama to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key
obstacle to improved relations, will expire Friday and the remaining
issues will then get quickly resolved, Sen. Tom Udall told reporters in
“We are just two days away. There has not been a vote in the Congress so
that’s going to stand,” Udall said. “I think it will be a matter of
weeks when we have restored diplomatic relations.”
U.S. and Cuban officials have said the two sides are close to resolving
the final issues that would allow both countries to re-open embassies
and exchange ambassadors for the first time since the U.S. severed
diplomatic relations in January 1961.
Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who led a four-member Democratic
congressional delegation to Cuba, said there appears to be growing
momentum to removing at least elements of the U.S. trade embargo first
imposed in 1960.
There is bipartisan support for separate pieces of legislation that
would permanently end a ban on travel, allow trade in agricultural goods
and enable U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide
services and devices in Cuba, the senator said.
The delegation, which included Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Rep. Raul
Grijalva of Arizona and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, spoke to
reporters after meeting with Cuban officials and small business owners.
All four members of the delegation support lifting the trade embargo,
which the Cubans say has badly damaged their economy over the past five
Obama softened aspects of the embargo and called on Congress to end it
during his State of the Union address in January.
Franken said there is strong support among the U.S. public for normal
“I think there is a very small minority, really, in the Senate and the
Congress who have strong objections to this and I think that a majority
of the American people and a majority of the Congress would be for
lifting the embargo,” he said. “But there is work to be done.”
Some of that work emerged as the members of Congress spoke to reporters.
Franken was asked about the presence of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, which Castro said must be returned to Cuba. Franken dodged
the question, saying, “I don’t believe that that is a salient issue at
this time.” He then added that he doesn’t have a “strong opinion” on the
base, though he supports closing the detention center there for
Udall was asked about the presence of criminals suspected of crimes in
the United States who have found refuge in Cuba. The senator raised the
example of Charlie Hill, who fled to the island after killing a police
officer in New Mexico in 1971, and said he should be extradited.
“I assume with the normalization of relations we are going to have a lot
more discussions about things like that,” Udall said.
Source: US senator in Cuba says normal relations ‘weeks away’ | Miami
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