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US, Cuba meet to discuss reopening embassies after 54-year freeze

media US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro meet at Nelson Mandela's funeral in 2013 Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach/files

Delegations from Cuba and the United States were to meet in Washington DC on Friday to discuss the second round in moves to restore diplomatic relations - the opening of embassies in their respective capital cities.

There was hope within US President Barack Obama’s administration that a big symbolic step would happen before mid-April when the Summit of the Americas is expected to bring together Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro for the first time since their historic announcement in December of last year that relations would be restored.

Normalising relations begins with the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington but many technical issues remain and a senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday that the second round of talks here in Washington might seem “disappointingly workman-like”.

Still, talks are on track and on schedule so far.

The US wanted assurances that its diplomats would be able to travel freely inside Cuba and that its embassy would be able to receive shipments without impediments.

Minor worries, maybe, but they could lead to setbacks, most notably the fact that Cuba is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

That is under review and Cuba might not want to move ahead if it is not taken off that list quickly.

Plenty more remains to be discussed and Cuba’s human rights record might be another stumbling block.

Diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States ended in 1961.

Only in December, and with a prisoner exchange in tow, did both countries decide to restore those ties.

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