A month after U.S. President Barack Obama announced a radical shift in America’s policy on Cuba with an aim to re-establish diplomatic ties, a high-level U.S. delegation to the island nation will begin talks with Cuban diplomats on Wednesday, according to media reports. The talks will begin just a day after Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he said that his government is ending “a policy that was long past its expiration date.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the U.S. state department said that talks between the two nations would focus on “technical and logistical arrangements such as embassy operations, staffing, and visa processing,” adding that the resumption of talks is a “historic and important process.”
The negotiations between the U.S. delegation, which is being led by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson -- the highest-ranking American official to visit Cuba in over three decades -- and Cuban diplomats, would also focus on the issue of immigration, according to media reports.
However, a senior Cuban official said on Tuesday that relations between the two nations cannot be normalized until the five-decade-old trade embargo on Cuba is lifted, according to media reports. The economic embargo, imposed during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, is believed to have taken a heavy toll on the Cuban economy.
“Cuba isn't normalizing relations with the United States. Cuba is re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States. The normalization of relations is a much longer process and much more complicated process,” the Cuban official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reportedly said.
Although Obama has indicated his willingness to lift the sanctions and has urged Congress to work toward ending them, Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate have cautioned against a rapid rebuilding of ties as long as President Raul Castro remains in power, according to a report by The Associated Press.
The historic shift in relations between the two nations comes after over 18 months of covert negotiations, which eventually led to the release of Alan Gross -- a U.S. government contractor who had been imprisoned in Havana for over five years -- as well as 53 political prisoners, in December last year. In response, the U.S. also lifted several travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.