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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Talks To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Cuba

Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Washington, DC
May 22, 2015

12:30 P.M. EDT


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for coming. As you know, the governments of the United States and Cuba have been holding discussions on the normalization of relations since December 17th, president – when President Obama changed directions in U.S. policy towards Cuba. President Obama and Castro agreed on the historic occasion to restore a relationship severed some 54 years ago, and to work towards the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of embassies in each other’s countries. Since then, our governments have met regularly and have been in constant contact to define the conditions under which these embassies would operate. This has not been an easy task given our complicated history.

In the past two days, we met with Cuban officials to discuss the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. This round of talks was highly productive. We will persist, inspired by the conviction that engagement and not isolation are the keys to moving forward. We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. These are the first steps in the long process of normalization that will allow us to better represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people.

I am very thankful for our negotiating teams, including Director General Josefina Vidal and Jose Ramon Cabanas, Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, who continue to work tirelessly to help move us forward.

Let me stop there and ask for some assistance. (In Spanish.)

Okay, thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for a couple of questions. Daniel Trotta, Reuters. The microphone is right here.

QUESTION: Thank you and good afternoon. Did you reach any kind of agreement on what constitutes interference in one’s internal affairs under the Vienna Convention? Do you have any type of agreement with regard to the travel of diplomats in Cuba, with regard to the courses that are given at the U.S. Interests Section? And would the United States, on that level, be willing to coordinate those courses through the Cuban Government, for example, the education ministry or some other official government function? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I appreciate the question, and the fact is that we have agreed from the beginning – and this is where the conversations go – to use the Vienna Convention as the basis for our discussion of re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and that’s the document that we’re using. So we obviously discussed that. But I think the fact is that we’re making progress in these areas, but as my colleague from Cuba said, I’m not going to really be specific about where we still have to close. We’ve gotten closer each time we talk, but we’re still talking about various aspects of the functioning of an embassy. But we have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. So that’s really as far as I can go today in terms of specifics.

MODERATOR: Okay. Margaret Warner from PBS, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Are you still as optimistic as more than one senior official said before this last round, and if so, what is that based on, I mean, other than that the talks continue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Other than my congenitally sunny disposition?

QUESTION: Yes, other than that. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I mean, is there any measurable progress on any of these thorny issues that you were very open in discussing in the hearing the other day?


I think that I actually am both an optimist by nature, but also a realist about the difficulties of this process and how much we have to get past. My own view, and I think my delegation certainly shares this, is that it isn’t a lack of measurable progress. Each time we have met we have made progress. We made progress this time, and the truth is that you, in the end, inevitably come to some tough issues before you get agreement. But we made great progress and I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we’re going to do that as quickly as possible.

So I do remain optimistic, but I’m also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.

MODERATOR: All right. Michael Gordon, New York Times.

QUESTION: After four rounds, can you explain to us – I know you touched on this in the hearing – but can you explain to us what your expectations are about the sort of access American diplomats really need to have in Cuba to perform their duties and the sort of access Cuban citizens need to have to the American Embassy to make this be a worthwhile project? Comparable to what sorts of situations in what countries, let’s say, in the case of American diplomats? And do you think another round will be necessary to close the gaps between the two sides or do you think you might be able to do it without that? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. I think that we’ve been pretty clear throughout that obviously the opening of diplomatic relations, reestablishment of the embassies is going to be something that is different than the way we’ve operated in the past, and that there are a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. And so all I can say at this point is we have confidence that when we get to an agreement, our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.

On the question of a next round, I think that we made a great deal of progress this time and that I don’t know that we will need another round. I think at this point this is likely to be the kind of thing that can be hammered out using our diplomatic missions, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section here in Washington, and the very capable chiefs of mission in those two interests sections.

Sorry, that was too fast.

MODERATOR: And one last question to Gloria Ordaz from Univision.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Ms. Jacobson, the United States are – will continue to provide the training courses for journalists in Cuba. Are you willing to modify it because Cuba is requesting that? And if the answer is yes, why?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I think we’ve been very clear that we have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people, but I’ve also been clear that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996. I can’t say what changes they may have in the future, but we are constantly looking at how to make them effective, which is the bottom line, and that is something we do all the time, not necessarily linked to this process. You have to look at the environment. You have to look at the way you provide support for people. So it’s not a question that I can answer at this point, because we’re still in conversations about functioning of embassies, which is where our focus is right now.

QUESTION: You can answer that in Spanish, too.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, everyone, for coming out.