WASHINGTON._ Marked by profound differences and a more than fifty-year long stand off, Cuba and the United States are advancing towards the resumption of diplomatic relations and cooperation on matters of mutual interest.

The announcement by presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama last December 17 to work on a bilateral rapprochement hailed the dawn of a new era between both nations that hope to gradually attain a normalization of ties.

Josefina Vidal, head of the island’s Havana-Washington talks delegation to reestablish diplomatic links, told journalists that what had been done over the past few months could be described as progress.

Marked by profound differences and a more than fifty-year long stand off, Cuba and the United States are advancing towards the resumption of diplomatic relations and cooperation on matters of mutual interest.Since January 22, working groups from the two countries have held meetings to pave the way towards the opening of embassies that will function normally and in accordance with the Vienna conventions of both 1961 and 1963 that regulate consular and diplomatic relations.

In May 22, in the State Department, both sides concluded their fourth meeting on the subject and agreed to maintain contacts until the objectives outlined by their leaders had been realized.

Head of the host delegation and Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, confirmed that progress had resulted from each meeting and that the reestablishment of links was now much closer.

She described the two-day talks in the U.S. capital as highly productive and thanked the two groups in charge of driving the process forward for the commitment shown.

According to Vidal, the progress is palpable “because when talks started in Cuba last January, the range of issues discussed was far broader.”

”The removal of Cuba from the list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism and the banking problems of our Interests Section in Washington are issues now resolved,” she said.

Obama approved the exclusion of Cuba from the aforementioned list and Florida-based Stonegate bank began offering services to the Cuban Interests Section which had been affected for more than a year by the unavailability of services.

Sources close to the talks to reestablish ties broken by the White House in 1961 assured that the progress is also important when it comes to the logistics of the embassies once they are opened as well as the conduct of personnel in line with international regulations.

The movement restrictions in force for diplomats from both nations, as well as calls by the U.S. side for more mobility on the island, have been addressed at the talks.

Cuba insists on the need to open embassies in strict accordance with the Vienna Conventions, requiring that U.S. diplomats desist in their efforts to promote internal subversion hidden in destabilisation programs such as the “people-to-people programs.”

Jacobson said that the base of the discussions is the correct implementation of the Vienna Conventions and that progress had been made in this regard.

Nonetheless, everything seems to suggest – although neither side has revealed details -- that some issues related to the workings of the embassies are impeding their opening and the reestablishment of ties.

Both Vidal and Jacobson indicated, without specifying whether they would take place in the context of a new round of talks or via the agreed channels for the exchange of ideas and opinions, that this topic would soon be addressed.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry´s Director General for the United States clarified that public encounters are not the only forums for dialogue: it should not be assumed that we only talk when we physically meet – we maintain continuous communications through other means.

TALKS BETWEEN EQUALS

Dialogue between equals and reciprocal treatment underlie the progress achieved
by Cuba and the U.S. in the meetings about the restoration of ties.

Vidal confirmed that “we have come to this point because we treat each other as equals,” and commented that both nations had learned how to dialogue, in spite of their often profound differences.

TECHNICAL MEETINGS

Another indication of the new scenario are the ever more frequent meetingsm at a technical level to address matters of mutual interest which are key to the normalization of ties. For this to happen, however, the island requires the lifting of the blockade, the return of the land currently occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base and an end to the illegal U.S. radio and television broadcasts and destabilization programs.

In this regard, Vidal pointed out the meetings held on migratory fraud, civil aviation, people trafficking, human rights, protected marine areas, hydrography, nautical charts, and marine species research.

She also announced that meetings on health and joint law enforcement would be held soon.

The official told The Havana Reporter that these initial meetings would focus on the combat of infectious diseases; an area in which both countries had acquired degrees of experience and development.

With regard to the fight against criminal activity, she said that the rapprochement
between Havana and Washington meant an increase in the movement of people between both nations and pushed for a mechanism aimed at the confrontation of crime since “its proliferation is not in the interests of either country.”

She added that this type of judicial and law enforcement collaboration is something that both Governments, of Cuba and the U.S., had with many other countries around the world.

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