U.S.-Cuba deal to restore ties to be unveiled today

WASHINGTON/HAVANA, (Reuters) – The United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to reopen embassies and restore diplomatic ties severed more than five decades ago, and the historic deal will be unveiled today, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Nearly 6-1/2 months after U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sealed a diplomatic breakthrough, Obama will announce the new steps toward rapprochement in the White House Rose Garden at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) today.

Signaling it is likely to act in sync with the United States, Cuba’s Communist government said the chief of the U.S. mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, would meet the interim foreign minister in Havana today to deliver a note from Obama to Castro on the re-establishment of ties between the two former Cold War rivals. Obama and Castro met in Panama in April.

Both countries can now upgrade their so-called interests sections in Havana and Washington into full-blown embassies, with ambassadors to be appointed later. The State Department must give Congress a 15-day notice before opening an embassy. “We will formally announce tomorrow that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and open embassies in each other’s capitals,” a senior U.S. official said.

Restoration of ties would be the latest phase in a normalization process that is expected to move slowly because of lingering problems over issues such as Cuba’s human rights record, as well as Havana’s desire to keep a tight rein on Cuba’s society and its state-run economy.

A U.S. economic embargo against Cuba will remain in place, and only Congress can lift it.

U.S. officials say there is little, if any, chance that hardline anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress would be able to block the restoration of ties or reopening of embassies.

But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican Cuban-American congresswoman from south Florida, said in a statement: “Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”

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