Cuba sounds warning ahead of next round of U.S. talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 12:07 AM

By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba warned the United States on Monday that it wants American diplomats to scale back aid for Cuban dissidents before the two countries can reopen embassies in each other's capitals.

The long-time adversaries are negotiating the restoration of diplomatic relations as a first step toward reversing more than five decades of confrontation. Officials for both governments met in Havana in January and a second round of talks is expected to be held in Washington this month.

But Cuba's lead negotiator said in an interview broadcast on state television that if the United States wants free movement for its diplomats in Cuba, it must stop using them to support the political opposition.

"The way those (U.S.) diplomats act should change in terms of stimulating, organizing, training, supplying and financing elements within our country that act against the interests of ... the government of the Cuban people," Josefina Vidal said.

"The total freedom of movement, which the U.S. side is posing, is tied to a change in the behavior of its diplomatic mission and its officials," said Vidal, Cuba's top official for U.S. affairs.

Washington has long criticized the communist government for repressing opponents of the one-party system. While public support for dissidents is limited, they receive plenty of attention from U.S. and Western diplomats.

The United States says it supports Cuban activists who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

The restoration of diplomatic ties could happen before a regional summit in Panama in April, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro would meet for the first time since shaking hands at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

Obama and Castro spoke on the phone the day before their separate but simultaneous announcements on Dec. 17 that they would attempt to end their Cold War-era hostilities.

The warning by Vidal suggested there were obstacles to restoring diplomatic ties, which has been seen as a relatively easy first step before the two sides try to resolve deeper differences on matters such as human rights and the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

Vidal said the conduct of Cuban diplomats in Washington was "impeccable", while suggesting the Americans were meddling in internal Cuban affairs.

"Matters of the internal affairs in Cuba are not negotiable," Vidal said. "Nor are we going to negotiate matters of an internal nature regarding Cuban sovereignty in exchange for lifting the embargo. Beyond that, everything else is a process of negotiation."

(Editing by Paul Tait)