U.S., Cuba to reopen talks on migration

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 13, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Long-suspended talks between the U.S. and Cuba will resume Tuesday, the latest signal of the Obama administration's efforts to revive ties between the two nations.

The State Department wouldn't confirm the resumption of the talks, but several members of Congress said they were scheduled to be held in New York, for one day.

The U.S. delegation will be headed by Craig Kelly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Dagoberto Rodriguez, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official and the former head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, will lead the Cuban delegation.

The State Department said in May that it hoped to "use the renewal of talks to reaffirm both sides' commitment to safe, legal and orderly migration."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the agenda for the meeting is solely migration issues, including the ability of U.S. diplomats to follow up on the status of Cubans returned to the island; U.S. access to deepwater ports for repatriation purposes; and Cuba's willingness to take back criminals and others expelled from the U.S.

However, Ros-Lehtinen criticized the resumption of the talks, saying that the Cuban regime has failed to honor the migration accords.

"It is unfortunate that, once again, the Cuban regime is being rewarded with overtures from the U.S. government despite its ongoing atrocities against the Cuban people and policies that undermine U.S. security interests and priorities," she said.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., called for the administration to "push for firm commitments from the Cuban government, now headed by President Raul Castro.

Noting that the Bush administration scuttled talks "because of the Cuban regime's failure to live up to its commitments," Martinez said the administration should require the regime Havana to meet its obligations, particularly allowing U.S. officials to check on Cubans who are returned to the island.

The talks come as the administration looks to improve relations with Havana and months after President Barack Obama lifted some travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives on the island.

Former President George W. Bush suspended similar talks in 2003, saying the Cuban government was uncooperative.

Sarah Stephens, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, called the resumption "a welcome development because the two governments are talking, because migration affects both of our interests, and because this can be a starting point for discussions on drugs, the environment, and ultimately, diplomacy and politics."�

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