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Normalcy for US, Cuba Takes Many Steps 12/19 06:17

   The Obama administration and the communist government of Raul Castro move to 
normalize more than a half-century of bitter animosity between the United 
States and Cuba.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- How does one end almost 54 years of hostility toward a 
next-door neighbor?

   That's about to become clear as the Obama administration and the communist 
government of Raul Castro move to normalize more than a half-century of bitter 
animosity between the United States and Cuba.

   It won't happen overnight. Some of the likely steps:


   While international relations can be subject to laws passed by Congress, the 
White House enjoys broad discretion in diplomatic recognition. An exchange of 
diplomatic notes between Washington and Havana would be enough to normalize 
diplomatic relations, but that must be preceded by agreement on a series of 
separate understandings that would govern those ties.

   High-level discussions to reach those understandings will begin in late 
January in Havana as part of previously scheduled U.S.-Cuba immigration talks. 
The top U.S. diplomat for the Americas, Assistant Secretary of State for 
Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, will lead the administration's 
delegation. Jacobson told reporters on Thursday that the process is in many 
ways "mechanical" and will not be contingent on reaching accords on areas of 
deep U.S. concern, notably Cuba's human rights record.

   Nor are comprehensive settlements of outstanding U.S. and Cuban legal claims 
against each other and private companies required for normalization, she said. 
President Barack Obama and others maintain, though, that improving human rights 
and resolving other contentious issues, including lawsuits, will remain key 
U.S. priorities moving forward.

   Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed in 1961 but 
partially restored in 1977 with the creation of U.S. and Cuban interests 
sections staffed by diplomats in the countries' respective capitals. Those 
facilities are technically under the authority of Switzerland, which serves as 
what is known as a "protecting power" for both the United States and Cuba in 
each other's nation. Once full diplomatic relations are restored, those 
interests sections would be converted to embassies.


   As with recognition, the U.S. Constitution gives the executive branch wide 
discretion in opening and closing diplomatic facilities. But Congress must 
approve money to pay for them, and Senate confirmation is required for 
ambassadorial nominations. Several senators opposed to the administration's 
policy shift have threatened to withhold funding for an embassy in Havana and 
to block any nominee for ambassador. Since Congress has for 37 years funded the 
interests section in Havana and for its staff, who provide vital services to 
Americans and Cubans, administration officials do not believe Congress will 
block payments to convert the mission to an embassy. The State Department says 
it plans to use the building in which the current interests section is located, 
a six-story structure that served as the embassy from 1953 until 1961, and does 
not expect the change to cost significantly more than what is currently spent.

   The ambassador post could be more problematic. A single senator can block a 
nomination. Administration officials expect that any nominee will face a 
difficult confirmation process but note that the functions of an ambassador are 
often carried out by a deputy chief of mission or charge d'affaires. The 
administration says it hopes to have the embassy open "within months" but that 
timetable will be dictated by the speed of the broader normalization effort.


   The executive branch does not have the power to abolish the 1963 embargo, 
but it can take steps to mitigate its effect. Ending the embargo would take an 
act of Congress, and administration officials admit they are not optimistic 
that will happen soon. Officials say, however, they believe an easing of 
sanctions will eventually create conditions in Cuba that will persuade 
opponents of normalization to vote in favor of ending the embargo.

   In addition to the embargo, Cuba is subject to sanctions under other 
legislation, including its designation in 1982 as a "state sponsor of 
terrorism." That designation restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense 
exports and sales, puts controls over exports of dual-use items and sets out 
numerous financial and travel restrictions. Obama announced he had instructed 
Secretary of State John Kerry to begin a six-month review of the designation 
that is required to delist Cuba. Officials refuse to pre-judge the outcome of 
the review but acknowledge that the White House would not have ordered it 
without an eye on lifting the designation.

   Cuba is also subject to sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act, the 
Helms-Burton Act and other legislation, all of which would require 
congressional approval to repeal but not necessarily to ease.


   Don't rush to Cuba to pick up cigars and rum just yet. The easing of trade, 
travel and currency restrictions announced on Wednesday will not take effect 
until the Commerce and Treasury Departments revise the regulations and publish 
the revisions in the Federal Register. That could take weeks, at least.

   The administration says rules on visits to Cuba by Americans will be 
liberalized to allow for travel in categories that have in the past required 
special licenses from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Those 
categories include: family visits, official U.S. or foreign government 
business, journalism, research and professional meetings, educational and 
religious activities, performances, workshops, competitions and expeditions and 
humanitarian support. Specific licenses will also no longer be required for 
business related to telecommunications and Internet linkages with Cuba.

   In addition, Americans with family in Cuba will now be allowed to send their 
relatives up to $2,000 every three months, up from $500, and Americans visiting 
Cuba will be allowed to legally import merchandise bought there with a value of 
up to $400, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol purchases. Those 
purchases will also be allowed to be made with credit and debit cards issued by 
U.S. banks.


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