Cuban flag to hang in State Dept. lobby as embassies reopen

AP News
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Posted: Jul 17, 2015 4:31 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Cuban flag will soon be hung in the lobby of the State Department, joining those of other nations with which the United States has diplomatic relations, the department said Friday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the flag will be hung early Monday morning before a ceremony to mark the re-opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington and the restoration of full diplomatic ties. The department's lobby features the flags of more than 150 other countries placed in alphabetical order. Cuba falls between Croatia and Cyprus in that arrangement.

Later Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet at the department with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, after which they will hold a joint news conference, Kirby said.

Rodríguez will be in Washington for the upgrading of the Cuban Interests Section in the capital city to a full-fledged embassy. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana will also become an embassy Monday, according to Kirby, but officials say the secretary is not expected to travel to Cuba for its dedication until early August. The U.S. embassy in Cuba will put out a brief statement announcing its new status, but it will not raise an American flag nor replace its interests section signage until Kerry's visit, the officials said.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and no Cuban foreign minister has visited the State Department since. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced in December that they intended to normalize relations between their two countries, former Cold War foes.

At the time it was hoped that could be accomplished by spring, but the process dragged on longer than expected, with several issues requiring more time to resolve than anticipated.

One of those was the ability of American diplomats in communist Cuba to travel around the country and meet people.

Kirby acknowledged that Cuba remains a restrictive country, but noted that the U.S. has full ties with other such nations and American diplomats are able to work in those places.

"It is not a restriction-free environment, but we're comfortable that they will be able to do the job that they need to do," he said.