Obama unlikely to name U.S. ambassador for Cuba quickly

 

Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post

 

The Obama administration will not move immediately to place an ambassador in Cuba but will name Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the career diplomat who has headed its diplomatic mission in Havana since last summer, as charge d’affaires, the State Department said Monday.

 

DeLaurentis will be the “senior most official” at the embassy, which the administration said last week will open on July 20, a department statement said. Cuba, which will open its U.S. Embassy in Washington on the same day, has not indicated when it will name an ambassador.

 

The openings will come seven months after President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro simultaneously announced their intentions to reestablish diplomatic ties, following nearly two years of secret talks. On Wednesday, after four rounds of negotiations over the parameters for their diplomatic missions, the two leaders exchanged letters setting the date.

 

Some congressional critics of the opening, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), both presidential hopefuls, have said they will oppose any Obama nominee as ambassador to Cuba.

 

The State Department emphasized that restrictions on U.S. citizen travel to Cuba and the economic embargo remain in place and can be lifted only by Congress. The statement also said that the United States will continue implementing the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows any Cuban citizen in the United States to apply for permanent residency after one year.

 

A 1995 addition to the act allows any Cuban setting foot on U.S. territory to remain, while those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba. The Cuban government has charged that the policy encourages illegal and unsafe migration across the Florida Straits. Under existing agreements between the two governments, the current U.S. Interests Section issues tens of thousands of immigration visas to Cubans each year.

 

The statement said the embassy will continue all functions currently performed by the Interests Section, “including consular services, operation of a political and economic section, [and] implementation of a public diplomacy program.”

 

The interests sections were opened in 1977 in buildings that formerly served as embassies in Washington and Havana before diplomatic relations were severed 54 years ago.

 

Both embassies will be in the same buildings. The State Department said that its embassy would “continue to promote respect for human rights” and would “operate in sync with our values and the President’s policy.”

 

U.S. diplomats in Havana, and Cuban diplomats in Washington, will no longer have to ask permission to travel outside the two capitals but will still have to notify each other’s government in advance of their internal travel plans. The rules are like those in “other embassies in restrictive societies around the world,” the statement said.

 

The number of diplomats allowed in each capital, formerly limited to a few dozen, has been increased, but neither the United States nor Cuba has provided specifics. Administration officials have said they plan to expand diplomatic representation to include officials from the Commerce and Treasury departments and other parts of the government, as well as law enforcement.

 

“Diplomats will be able to meet and exchange opinions with both government and non-government entities,” the statement said.

 

It said that full normalization of relations between the two countries “is a long, complex process that will require continued interaction and dialogue.”

 

Bilateral discussions have begun on issues including counternarcotics, civil aviation, Internet technology and human rights.

 

 

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