HAVANA, Cuba, March 29, 2015 (AMG) — In an interview with Reuters on March 2, U.S. president Barack Obama expressed his desire to reopen an American embassy in Cuba before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in Panama City, which will be the first time that the Cuban government has been invited to the high-level meeting.
“My hope is that we will be able to open an embassy, and that some of the initial groundwork will have been laid” by the time of the regional conference, the President optimistically explained.
Several weeks later, and with the date of the Summit fast approaching, neither the U.S. nor Cuba appear any closer to re-establishing official embassies in their respective countries. On the contrary, the process of diplomatic normalization so recently initiated by the two formerly-hostile governments has now apparently stalled.
Progress of diplomatic talks: A third round of talks between the U.S. and Cuban governments, held in Havana on March 16, disappointed many when it failed to produce a target date for the reopening of embassies. Unlike after the previous two talks, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, and the director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal – who each lead their respective delegations during the negotiations – did not speak publicly following the talks’ conclusion. Subsequent statements by both governments regarding the outcome of the talks were decidedly muted.
“At the end of the meeting, which took place in a professional environment, the two delegations agreed to maintain communication in the future as part of the process,” Ms. Vidal later told the press, failing to mention any concrete progress resulting from the talks.
“We’re open to it,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cryptically told reporters after the talks, when asked whether the U.S. would open an embassy in Cuba ahead of the regional summit in mid-April, striking a much more cautious tone than the president’s earlier pronouncements.
Both governments maintained their commitment to holding further negotiations in the near future.
Differing negotiation priorities: One critical stumbling-block slowing down diplomatic normalization efforts between the two countries is Cuba’s continued presence on the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terror. In the past, Cuban officials have cited Cuba’s removal from the list as a prerequisite for the full restoration of relations.
Additionally, American and Cuban governments remain starkly at odds over developments in Cuba’s top ally Venezuela, which the U.S. recently targeted with new sanctions on.
Cuban academic and long-time diplomat Carlos Alzugaray however was quick to dismiss the notion that disagreements over Venezuela could seriously threaten the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
“It will always have some impact, but I don’t see any signal from Cuba that it is not interested in moving forward, nor do I see it from the United States.” Alzugaray told reporters. “For me, those are the accepted rules of the game.”
Cover image: Sergio Carreira