CUBA STANDARD — John Kerry will become the first U.S. secretary of state in Cuba since 1958 when he visits Havana Aug. 14 to formally open the U.S. embassy.
While there, he will “meet with senior Cuban government officials,” State Department spokesperson John Kirby said.
The State Department made the announcement during a meeting in Washington between Kerry and his Cuban peer Bruno Rodríguez, who was in the United States to celebrate the opening of the Cuban embassy. This was the first official visit of a Cuban foreign minister to Washington since 1958.
Kerry and Rodríguez “had a lot to talk about,” Kerry said at a press conference after the meeting. “Not just about U.S.-Cuba relations, but also about the region — and I think we had a very constructive conversation.” He said bilateral issues in the conversation included cooperation on law enforcement, counternarcotics, telecommunications, the internet, environment, and human rights, including human trafficking.
Rodríguez reiterated Cuba’s main issues.
“I emphasized that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantánamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations,” he said.
“We have not spoken about conditions but rather about the need to move on through the dialogue on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect,” he elaborated later, answering a reporter’s question whether these were preconditions for further talks.
In regards to Guantánamo, Kerry denied any discussions.
“At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station, but we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it and I can’t tell you what the future will bring. But for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.”
After the press conference, Kerry defended the Obama administration’s policy in an interview with NBC, saying that the effort in Congress to block funding for the U.S. embassy and nomination of an ambassador “just doesn’t make sense.”
“To not be able to meet with more people in Cuba, to know what is going on, is a huge cut off of opportunity,” Kerry said. “I just think it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. And it’s a shame.”
Kerry predicted that by the time the next president takes office in 2017, it would be impossible to change course.
“I believe the president has taken an irreversible step,” Kerry said.