Press Availability following Re-establishment of Relations Talks

Press Availability
Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Havana, Cuba
January 22, 2015

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Good afternoon. Buenas tardes. Today, January 22nd , 2015, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. I led the delegation for the United States.

This first round of talks has been a positive and productive dialogue. We discussed in real and concrete terms the required steps for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We discussed the opening of embassies in our respective countries, and how we expect the U.S. Embassy in Havana to operate.

The new regulations announced by the United States Treasury and Commerce Departments last week demonstrate the breadth and depth to which the United States has already implemented the President’s commitment to a new direction for the United States' policy on Cuba. Our efforts to normalize relations will be a continuing process that goes beyond establishing diplomatic relations or opening an embassy. Today, we have made further steps in this new direction. Thank you.

MODERATOR: The first question goes to Daniel Trotta from Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to know what are the legal, practical, and political obstacles to establishing diplomatic relations. We know there are a number of differences between the two countries on issues like the Cuban Adjustment Act, fugitives, state sponsors of terrorism, but which of these need to be resolved first? Are any of them holding up a deal, or are you free to take this step today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well first of all, let me reiterate what I said in my statement that the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies is just a part of the broader normalization of relations. And in fact, the establishment of diplomatic relations really does not have a checklist or a template that one has to follow every time. It is done by mutual consent of the two countries and it is a relatively straightforward process, not overly cumbersome, and that is why it will precede many of the other items that will continue as part of the normalization process. Those issues that are part of the full range of normalization are complex and they reflect profound differences between our two countries and will continue to be discussed as the President has outlined. But the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in itself is not a particularly cumbersome process and is done by mutual consent of the two governments.

QUESTION: But are there any issues of mutual consent that are getting in the way of a deal today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I think that what you have to recognize is that we have, as our presidents have taken the step, to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust. So there are things that we have to discuss before we can establish that relationship. And so there will be future conversations to make sure that we have discussed the steps we need to re-establish diplomatic relations, but they are not the full range of other disagreements that we have.

So there are not necessarily – I’m not going to say that there are individual substantive issues that we aren’t going to discuss later today, which we will, but there are some steps that we will continue to talk about as part of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including, as I outlined before I came here, personnel and facilities and diplomatic shipments that we need to iron out before diplomatic relations can be restored.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) question is from Karen DeYoung from The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Thank you. Earlier today, a Cuban official told us that the two sides have, in fact, agreed to use the Vienna Conventions as the basis for the re-establishment of relations. Does that, in fact, under the provisions answer the U.S. concerns about the privileges and protections of U.S. diplomats? And what do you envision to be the sequence of events and timing leading to the restoration of relations?

And secondly, President Obama said in his December 17th speech, and has said several times since then, that human rights and freedom of expression would be part of the conversation – part of every conversation with Cuba. What did you say to the Cubans this morning about that subject and what was their response? Or if you didn’t speak about it, what will you say to them this afternoon?

Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me start off by saying that on the Vienna Convention, I think both sides were very clear that the Vienna Convention does absolutely guide our diplomatic relationship with all countries, and will and should guide our re-establishment of diplomatic relations bilaterally. So while it may not answer every question in the particular and rather peculiar relationship that we have had in the past, it is certainly the instrument under which normal diplomatic relations are conducted, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are the legal instruments under which we will conduct our diplomatic relations as we re-establish them.

On the second question on human rights – you asked about timeline. And what I will tell you is on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, I think that my Secretary put it best when he talked about opening an embassy in a timely and appropriate manner. I can’t tell you exactly when that will happen. We are all working through the issues as quickly as we can, and we will do that as soon as we can resolve all of the functional issues that we need to address.

On the issue of human rights, the President has spoken to the issue, and certainly that issue remains central to our conversations. We’ve made clear that we will continue to raise that issue, and I did discuss that issue today; it was part of my conversation. And as the President noted, we are ensuring that we raise those issues directly with the Cuban Government. We do have differences in that subject, profound differences with the Cuban Government, and it was part of the conversation today.

I think I can say that their response was that they had differences with us on that subject.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.