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Top Story :U.S., Cuba restore full diplomatic ties after 50 years of Cold War

U.S., Cuba restore full diplomatic ties after 50 years of Cold War



More than a half century of Cold War and lingering enmity came to an abrupt
but quiet end on Monday as the United States and Cuba restored full diplomatic
relations.

The new era began with little fanfare when an agreement between the two
nations to resume normal ties on July 20 came into force just after midnight
Sunday and the diplomatic missions of each country were upgraded from interests
sections to embassies. When clocks struck midnight in Washington and Havana,
they tolled a knell for policy approaches spawned and hardened over the five
decades since President John F. Kennedy first tangled with youthful
revolutionary Fidel Castro over Soviet expansion in the Americas.

Without ceremony in the pre-dawn hours, maintenance workers were to hang the
Cuban flag in the lobby of the State Department alongside those of other nations
with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations. The historic shift will be
publicly memorialized later Monday when Cuban officials formally inaugurate
their embassy in Washington and Cuba's blue, red and white-starred flag will fly
for the first time since the countries severed ties in 1961.

Secretary of State John Kerry will then meet his Cuban counterpart, Bruno
Rodriguez, and address reporters at a joint news conference.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana plans to announce its upgrade to embassy
status in a written statement on Monday, but the Stars and Stripes will not fly
at the mission until Kerry visits in August for a ceremonial flag-raising.

Though normalization has taken center stage in the U.S.-Cuba relationship,
there remains a deep ideological gulf between the nations and many issues still
to resolve. Among them are thorny over mutual claims for economic reparations,
Havana's insistence on the end of the 53-year-old trade embargo and U.S. calls
for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy. Some U.S. lawmakers,
including several prominent Republican presidential candidates, have vowed not
to repeal the embargo and pledged to roll back Obama's moves on Cuba.

Still, Monday's events cap a remarkable change of course in U.S. policy
toward the communist island under President Barack Obama, who had sought
rapprochement with Cuba since he first took office and has progressively
loosened restrictions on travel and remittances to the island.

'A historic moment'

Obama's efforts at engagement were frustrated for years by Cuba's
imprisonment of U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross
on espionage charges. But months of secret negotiations led in December to
Gross's release, along with a number of political prisoners in Cuba and the
remaining members of a Cuban spy ring jailed in the United States. On Dec. 17,
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would resume full
diplomatic relations.



United States Cuba
Cuba's blue, red and white-starred flag is set to fly
Monday outside the country's diplomatic mission in the United States for the
first time since the countries severed ties in 1961. (Pablo Martinez
Monsivais/AP)
Declaring the long-standing policy a failure that had not achieved any of its
intended results, Obama declared that the U.S. could not keep doing the same
thing and expect a change. Thus, he said work would begin apace on
normalization.

That process dragged on until the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state
sponsors of terrorism in late May and then bogged down over issues of U.S.
diplomats' access to ordinary Cubans.

On July 1, however, the issues were resolved and the U.S. and Cuba exchanged
diplomatic notes agreeing that the date for the restoration of full relations
would be July 20.

"It's a historic moment," said longtime Cuban diplomat and analyst Carlos
Alzugaray.

"The significance of opening the embassies is that trust and respect that you
can see, both sides treating the other with trust and respect," he said. "That
doesn't mean there aren't going to be conflicts — there are bound to be
conflicts — but the way that you treat the conflict has completely changed."


'We will become an Embassy'

Cuba's ceremony at the stately 16th Street mansion in Washington that has
been operating as an interests section under the auspices of the Swiss embassy
will be attended by some 500 guests, including a 30-member delegation of
diplomatic, cultural and other leaders from the Caribbean nation, headed by
Foreign Minister Rodriguez.

Obama US Cuba
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President
Joe Biden, announced earlier this month that the two countries were ready to
open embassy's in each nation's capital city. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)
The U.S. will be represented at the event by Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led U.S. negotiators in six
months of talks leading to the July 1 announcement, and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the
chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who will now become charge
d'affaires.

Although the Interests Section in Havana won't see the pomp and circumstance
of a flag-raising on Monday, workers there have already drilled holes on the
exterior to hang signage flown in from the U.S., and arranged to print new
business cards and letterhead that say "Embassy" instead of "Interests Section."
What for years was a lonely flagpole outside the glassy six-story edifice on
Havana's seafront Malecon boulevard recently got a rehab, complete with a paved
walkway.

Every day for the last week, employees have been hanging hand-lettered signs
on the fence counting down, in Spanish, to Monday: "In 6 days we will become an
embassy!" and so on.
























Both interests sections have technically operated as part of Switzerland's
embassies in Washington and Havana. The Swiss also were caretakers for the
former American Embassy and ambassador's residence from 1961 to 1977, when the
U.S. had no diplomatic presence in the country at all.
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