By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and the United States agreed on Monday to jointly prevent, contain and clean up oil and other toxic spills in the Gulf of Mexico, as they rush to conclude deals before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
U.S. Charge d'Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis, upon signing the agreement, said it was one of a series of deals to protect the shared marine environment of the two neighboring countries separated by just 90 miles (145 km) of water.
Trump has threatened to scrap a still-fragile detente between the two countries unless Cuba makes further political and economic concessions.
U.S. companies and the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama have announced a flurry of small deals in recent weeks aimed at making it harder for Trump to ditch the detente established by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014.
The former Cold War foes said last month that they hoped to sign as many as six cooperation accords before Jan. 20, when President Barack Obama leaves office.
The oil spill pact, also signed by Cuban Deputy Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez Davila, calls for the parties to prepare joint disaster plans, test them and train personnel, among other measures.
Cuba and foreign partners drilled four offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012, raising concerns that U.S. sanctions meant the United States was not in a position to respond to a spill that could be carried by currents to its coast.
The wells came up dry, but Cuba says it plans to drill again.
“This agreement is especially important for people living in coastal communities along the northern coast of Cuba and southern Florida because it provides a strong measure of protection against future disasters,” Dan Whittle, head of Cuba projects at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, said.
Obama has used executive orders to improve relations and punch holes in the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress. The deals and orders can be reversed by Trump.
More than a dozen cooperation accords have been inked to date, ranging from postal services and law enforcement to protecting marine life and fighting drug trafficking.
Negotiations are ongoing over difficult issues such as U.S. nationalization compensation claims, Cuba's demand for embargo reparations, extraditing fugitives and the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba.
Last week a deal was struck to export small amounts of charcoal to the United States and in December Google signed an agreement to place servers on the island to quicken access to its products.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)