PANAMA CITY: President Barack Obama moved closer Thursday to removing a major hurdle in the US-Cuba diplomatic thaw, as a lawmaker indicated he could take Havana off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
As Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro landed in Panama for a historic encounter at the Summit of the Americas, it emerged that the State Department has recommended to take Cuba off the blacklist.
Their foreign ministers, John Kerry and Bruno Rodriguez, were to have their own historic talks late Thursday, with US officials saying they would hold the highest-level diplomatic meeting since 1958.
Earlier, Obama said he would not make a formal announcement until he has the recommendations in full, but a leading member of the Senate foreign relations committee indicated the department’s advice was clear.
Senator Ben Cardin said the move was “an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba.”
Having Cuba’s name on the list has been a major sticking point in negotiations aimed at reopening embassies, which closed after the Cold War-era foes broke relations in 1961.
The blacklisting means that Cuba is subject to a ban on weapons exports and economic aid as well as financial sanctions that make it difficult to get World Bank and other loans.
Cuba was first put on the list, which also includes Syria, Sudan and Iran, in 1982 for harboring ETA Basque separatist militants and Colombian FARC rebels.
During a visit to Jamaica before heading Panama, Obama said the overall talks on establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was moving along as he expected.