Havana: Former US president Jimmy Carter
launched a three-day mission in Cuba aimed at easing tensions with Havana, and raising hopes a jailed US government
contractor may be freed.
Carter, 86, is visiting the communist-run island at
the invitation of the Cuban government for talks to help
improve deeply strained relations between Washington and
The Carter Centre said yesterday the former president
and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was visiting as part of a
"private, nongovernmental mission."
But officials have said Carter was asked by Washington
to intercede in the case of jailed American contractor Alan
Gross, serving a 15-year jail term.
Gross was sentenced by a Cuban court earlier this month after being convicted, following a brief trial, of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.
Carter, who also visited Cuba in 2002, is the most
important US political figure to visit the communist-ruled
island during the nearly half-century old American economic
Wearing a white open-necked shirt and accompanied by
his wife Rosalynn, Carter was greeted at the airport by Cuban
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on their arrival at 1440 GMT.
Also present were the heads of the interests sections
of both countries, Cuba`s Jorge Bolanos and Jonathan Farrar of
the United States, AFP journalists said.
Carter is due to meet today with President Raul
Castro, the foreign ministry said.
"He would not have come to Havana if he didn`t have a
hope of obtaining results," a Western diplomat, speaking anonymously, said in reference to the possible release of Gross.
The diplomat added that Havana "will never hand over a
prisoner to American officials," but could release Gross on
humanitarian grounds and allow him to go back with Carter.
Carter also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop
of Havana, who had a major hand in the release over the past
few months of dozens of imprisoned Cuban dissidents.