US official praises thaw in Cuba relations following migration talks

Saturday 11 January 2014 16.59
Barack Obama's second term has seen a thaw in relations with Cuba
Barack Obama's second term has seen a thaw in relations with Cuba

A US State Department official has praised the tone of current relations between the United States and Cuba.

Acting deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee also visited jailed US contractor Alan Gross during a three-day trip to the Communist-run island.

Mr Lee said migration talks held last week were "very constructive and have led to some positive outcomes," but did not elaborate.

Mr Lee said he also met with dissidents and other government officials without divulging the contents of his conversations.

Talks between the two countries were suspended in 2003 by former president George W Bush.

They were briefly revived by President Barack Obama's administration in 2009, but were suspended in 2011 when Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for installing internet networks for Cuban Jews in a US programme which Cuba considers subversive.

Cuba, whose delegation was led by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director general of the US Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement that the talks had taken place in a "respectful environment".

The strained relationship between the long-time foes has eased since Mr Obama began his second term in office.

Recently, State Department and Cuban officials said that contacts have been cordial - highlighted by Mr Obama's handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial in South Africa in December.

"Despite our historically difficult relationship, over the course of the past year and a half we have been able to speak to each other in a respectful and thoughtful manner," Mr Lee told a rare press conference in Havana.

The migration discussion was the latest high profile event between the two governments, which do not have diplomatic relations. The last such meeting was held in July 2013.

Under accords signed in 1994 and 1995, both governments pledged to promote safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States and to meet every six months to review the issue.

As part of the accords, the United States also agreed to accept 20,000 Cuban immigrants every year.

Keywords: cuba