President Barack Obama plans to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, lifting the main obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies after more than half a century of enmity.
Obama’s decision comes on the heels of a Western Hemisphere summit in Panama where Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat down on Saturday for the first meeting of its kind between leaders of the United States and Cuba in nearly 60 years, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Cuba’s communist government wants the country removed from the US blacklist to speed up normalization of diplomatic ties between the two former Cold War foes.
Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s presence on the list after he and Castro announced a diplomatic breakthrough on Dec. 17.
“After a careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the intelligence community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government, the Secretary of State concluded that Cuba met the conditions for rescinding its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” the White House said in a statement.
Congress has 45 days to consider Obama’s decision before it takes effect and lawmakers are unlikely to block the move.
There had been some expectations that Obama would announce his intention to remove the terrorism designation and move forward on restoring diplomatic relations at last weekend’s summit.
But US officials privately made clear they were using the issue as leverage in broader negotiations.
Cuba’s removal from the list will remove certain economic sanctions on the island but the broader US embargo on Cuba will remain in place because only Congress can end it.
Iran, Sudan and Syria remain on the list.
“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” the White House said.
The move would remove the main impediment to the re-establishment of diplomatic ties and the reopening of embassies.
Cuba’s human rights record still draws scorn from Washington, and Havana has shown little if any signs of political reform.
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