Washington: Cuban and U.S. officials held a second round of talks toward normalising ties on Friday, and the Cuban delegation said "good progress" was made, but the two sides did not set a date for renewal of diplomatic ties that Washington severed 54 years ago.
Going into the talks, Communist-ruled Cuba pushed to be removed from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but Washington said the designation should not be linked to the negotiations on renewing relations and opening embassies.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Josefina Vidal, chief of the Cuban foreign ministry`s U.S. division, said that removal from the terrorism list was not a pre-condition for renewal of diplomatic ties but added it was a "very important issue" and a priority for Cuba.
Friday`s talks in Washington stemmed from the decision announced by the two Cold war era foes last December to work to normalise relations, including opening embassies in each other`s countries, and to exchange prisoners.
"We have made progress," Vidal said, adding there was no date yet for the next meeting, but the two sides were going to maintain contact and she was optimistic there would be more advances in coming weeks on the issue of the terrorism list.
Havana says U.S. sanctions on banks that do business with designated countries on the list impede it from conducting diplomatic affairs in the United States.
The U.S. delegation at the talks, which followed a first round of negotiations in Havana last month, was headed by Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state.
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that re-establishing diplomatic relations should not be tied to the issue of the terrorism list, adding that the question of diplomatic ties was a technical process involving a set of "fairly normal" negotiations.
The terrorism sponsorship designation is a separate process and "not a negotiation," Kerry said, asked about the Cuba talks during a joint news conference with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"It is an evaluation that is made under a very strict set of requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be pursued separately, and it is being pursued separately," Kerry said. He added that "nothing will be done with respect to the list until the evaluation is completed.”
The Obama administration is nearing completion of its review of Cuba`s place on the list, which must be submitted to Congress before Cuba`s name can be removed, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.
The United States is hoping to reach agreement on reopening embassies in time for an April 10-11 regional heads of state summit in Panama, where U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro could meet for the first time since announcing their joint agreement on Dec. 17.
Cuba was added to the terrorism sponsors list in 1982, when it aided Marxist insurgencies during the Cold War. But it is currently aiding a peace process with Colombia`s left-wing FARC guerrillas.