Obama urges end to embargo as US, Cuba move to restore ties

Embassies in Washington & Havana will be reopened on July 20; EU terms restoration of ties 'historic milestone'

Afp July 01, 2015
US Vice President Joe R Biden listens while US President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS/ WASHINGTON/ HAVANA: US President Barack Obama announced a deal Wednesday to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, describing it as an "historic step forward" that must be followed by an end to the decades-old US embargo.

"Later this summer, Secretary John Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more," Obama said.

Under the deal, embassies in Washington and Havana will be reopened as soon as July 20.

The tentative date to reopen embassies was suggested in a letter that the head of the US Interests Section in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, delivered to Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina.

The head of US Interest Section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis (L), talks with Cuban Foreign Vice-Minister Marcelino Medina during a meeting at Foreign Ministry in Havana on July 1, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Read: Landmark summit: US, Cuba turn back on bitter past

The missive "confirms the decision to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20," the Cuban foreign ministry said on its website.

The reopening of the embassies will be the culmination of the historic decision by Obama and Castro on December 17 to re-establish diplomatic relations that broke off in 1961.

Both countries are currently represented by interests sections, and US and Cuban diplomats are not allowed to go out of Havana and Washington without official authorisation from the host countries.

Read: After five-decades of freeze, US thaws ties with Cuba

The two sides have been holding negotiations for months, and a major breakthrough was reached in late May when Washington removed Havana from a blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

EU hails 'historic' restoration of US-Cuba ties

The EU on Wednesday welcomed the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba after 54 years, calling it a "historic milestone".

But the European Union also urged further work to lift a trade embargo established in 1962 which remains in place, calling it "outdated and inconsistent".

US President Barack Obama has also urged Republican-controlled Congress to end the embargo, saying the policy "was not working".

"The announcement that the United States and Cuba are to restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies is a truly historic milestone on the path towards full normalisation of relations between the countries," a statement issued in Brussels said.

"At the same time, the EU encourages both sides to continue working on some outstanding issues, in particular the lifting of the embargo, which is an outdated and inconsistent instrument within the evolving context."

The EU never fully broke off relations with Cuba despite frequent criticisms over human rights but the two are aiming to sign a political framework for dialogue and cooperation by the end of this year.

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