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Terror list potential hang-up to US ties: Cuban diplomat

Cuba’s removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism will be key to restoring formal diplomatic relations between the two nations, the lead Cuban negotiator said in remarks published Saturday.

Josefina Vidal, head of US affairs at the Cuban foreign ministry, also said that even if the two countries do restore relations severed since 1961, the reopening of embassies in their respective countries could be delayed until a related problem involving Cuba’s access to US banks is resolved.

Vidal made the comments to Cuba’s state-run media after a second round of talks in Washington Friday with Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Jacobson expressed optimism at the end of the talks that relations could be formally restored by the Summit of the Americas in Panama April 10-11. Cuba is attending the summit for the first time and US President Barack Obama also plans to go.

But Vidal stressed the importance to Cuba of removing it from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism before diplomatic ties are restored.

“For example, if in a few weeks we receive some satisfactory news regarding Cuba’s removal from the terrorist list, I think we can then begin to talk about how to formalize the reestablishment of relations,” she said, in comments quoted by Cubadebate.cu.

– Banking access key –

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday said the State Department would review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and reach its own conclusions, but that it is a separate process and not a subject of the negotiations with Cuba.

If that issue is resolved in Cuba’s favor, Vidal said the reopening of the embassies may still be put off until Cuba regains access to the US banking system, which it needs to finance its embassy operations.

It lost its US banker in 2013 and has not found a replacement, in large part because of its presence on the US terror list.

“In our view everything doesn’t have to go into a package,” she said.

Diplomatic relations could be restored through an exchange of diplomatic notes or letters, without the banking problem having been resolved, she said.

“In a scenario of that nature one could say: ‘OK, relations are restored’ and the opening of the embassies are deferred until there are appropriate conditions for the functioning of the new mission.”

Asked about Jacobson’s optimism that an agreement can be reached by the summit, Vidal said, “If she said that, evidently perhaps they have reasons to think that by that date the banking situation will have been resolved.”

In the meantime, Vidal said, US State Department, Commerce and Treasury officials would visit Cuba soon to explain the measures the US side has taken so far to ease travel and trade restrictions.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro took the world by surprise in December when they announced their decision to restore relations and end more than half a century of enmity.

The talks in Washington Friday followed an initial round in Havana last month. No date has been set for the next round.

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