The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, met with Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, in Havana Monday for the first day of open-ended talks.
The two diplomats led delegations for earlier talks in January and February with intense media coverage, but reporters were excluded from Monday’s discussions.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the diplomats wanted to keep the talks “lower key.”
“Their focus is on rolling up their sleeves and having tough discussions, and getting the work done,” Psaki told reporters in Washington.
The latest talks come as tensions are increasing between the United States and Cuba’s closest ally, Venezuela. U.S. officials say the issue should not affect the talks with Cuba. However, Cuban officials have expressed concern about the developments.
Earlier this month, the United States ordered sanctions against seven Venezuelans officials, prompting Venezuela to recall its ambassador in Washington.
Officials close to the talks between Cuba and the United States say Cuba wants to be removed from a U.S. state sponsor of terrorism list before agreeing to restoring diplomatic ties.
U.S. State Department officials say that while the two issues remain separate, a review is under way on Cuba’s status and the review will be completed as quickly as possible. They also say U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting later this month to discuss human rights issues and telecommunications policies.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he hopes the two countries can reopen embassies in each other’s capitals before an upcoming Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama next month.
The U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960 and closed its embassy the following year. In January, following an initiative announced by Obama, the two sides began a series of meetings to re-establish ties.(VOA)