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Raul Castro still open to talks with US, but rejects idea of symbolic gesture

Thursday, April 30th 2009 - 12:08 UTC
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Cuban President Raul Castro Cuban President Raul Castro

Cuban President Raul Castro said Wednesday his country does not need to make any symbolic “gestures” as it pursues better relations with the United States. Addressing the Non Aligned Movement meeting in Havana Castro said he is still willing to talk about all issues and that it was up to the US to make the next move.

He also complained about the long-standing US embargo of Cuba. Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to family to Cuba, but left the embargo in place. He said it was now up to Cuba to take the next step.

“Cuba is not the one that stops its country's businessmen from doing business with ours; Cuba is not the one punishing financial transactions by US banks” Raul Castro said.

The current exchange with the US begun when the Cuban leader said he was willing to discuss such sticky subjects as human rights, freedom of the press and political prisoners in Cuba during possible negotiations with the United States. However the ailing leader of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro a couple of days later wrote in his usual columns on political affairs that his brother’s words had been “misinterpreted”.

Raul's comments Wednesday appeared to take a harder line on unilateral concessions to meet US expectations, and echoed the words of Fidel, who has written that Obama's policy changes did not go far enough because Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo is still in place.

The younger Castro said that the US steps were, “fine, positive but only achieve the minimum. The embargo remains intact.”

“There is not political or moral pretext that justifies this policy,” he said of the embargo. “Cuba has not imposed any such sanction against the United States or its citizens”. He added that “if they want to discuss all, it should be ... everything, everything, everything of ours but also of theirs”.

Last Monday a senior US diplomat met with a Cuban official in Washington for the second time in as many weeks for exploratory talks on improving the historically chilly US-Cuban relationship.

But State Department spokesman Robert Wood downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying the U.S. and Cuba have had discussions in the past when events warranted them. Another official was more upbeat and pointed out he was only aware of one such meeting during the last year of the recent Bush administration.

A spokesman at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington declined to comment on Monday's meeting.

The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations. They have interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other's capitals.

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