Press Availability With Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
Secretary of State
Also avaliable in Spanish.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I am very, very pleased this afternoon to welcome to the State Department my colleague, Bruno Rodriguez, the foreign minister of Cuba. And I apologize for our being a little bit late, but we were downstairs – we had a lot to talk about, not just about U.S.-Cuba relations but also about the region – and think we had a very constructive conversation. This is the first visit to the Department of State by a Cuban foreign minister since 1958, and today marks as well the resumption of normal diplomatic ties between our countries and the re-opening of our embassies after a rupture that has lasted 54 years.
So it’s an historic day; a day for removing barriers.
(In Spanish) The United States welcomes this new beginning in its relationship with the people and the Government of Cuba. We are determined to live as good neighbors on the basis of mutual respect, and we want all of our citizens – in the U.S. and in Cuba – to look into the future with hope. Therefore we celebrate this day on July the 20th because today we begin to repair what was damaged and to open what has been closed for many years.
This milestone does not signify an end to differences that still separate our governments, but it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, and that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement, and that we have begun a process of full normalization that is sure to take time but will also benefit people in both Cuba and the United States.
This shared resolve to look ahead is what drove our conversation today and what has brought us to this moment. The foreign minister and I touched on a wide range of issues of mutual concern including cooperation on law enforcement, counternarcotics, telecommunications, the internet, environmental issues, human rights, including trafficking in persons. And of course, we also discussed the opening of our embassies.
We want to make sure that those embassies are able to function fully, and I am confident that diplomats from both countries will have the freedom to travel and to converse with citizens from all walks of life. To help lead that effort, I am encouraged that we have a first-rate embassy team in Cuba, led by our charge, Ambassador Jeff De Laurentis, who is one of our finest and most experienced public servants. And I congratulate Foreign Minister Rodriguez on his – this morning’s opening of the Cuban Embassy here in Washington. On August 14th, I look forward to making my first trip as Secretary of State to Cuba and holding a comparable ceremony at our embassy in Havana.
Before closing, I want to thank our colleagues from Switzerland for the vital role that they have played for many years as the protecting power for what has obviously proven to be a much longer time than originally anticipated.
I thank our friends from around the hemisphere who have urged us – in some cases, for decades – to restore our diplomatic ties and who have warmly welcomed our decision to do so.
And I am grateful for the outstanding leadership of Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson and for the efforts of the many U.S. and Cuban representatives whose hard work made this day possible.
And I want to acknowledge the commitment of all who care about U.S.-Cuba relations, whether they agree with the decision to normalize or not. Change is rarely easy, especially when earlier positions have been so deeply ingrained and so profoundly felt. But although we can and must learn from the past, nothing is more futile than trying to live in the past. President Obama believes – and so do I – that our citizens benefit far more from policies that aim to shape a better future.
There is, after all, nothing to be lost – and much to be gained – by encouraging travel between our nations, the free flow of information and ideas, the resumption of commerce, and the removal of obstacles that have made it harder for families to visit their loved ones.
Make no mistake, the process of fully normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba will go on. It may be long and complex. But along the way, we are sure to encounter a bump here and there and moments even of frustration. Patience will be required. But that is all the more reason to get started now on this journey, this long overdue journey.
Today, with the opening of our embassies and the visit of the foreign minister, we are taking an historic and long overdue step in the right direction. To keep moving forward, both governments must proceed in a spirit of openness and mutual respect.
I can assure the world, including the people of Cuba, that the United States will do its part.
(In Spanish) I can assure all of you, including the Cuban people, that the United States will do its part.
And now, it is my pleasure to yield the floor to our guest, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, thank you. Good afternoon. Sorry for being late. We have just had a constructive and respectful meeting with Secretary John Kerry. With the Secretary of State, we had an exchange on the issues discussed by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama during their historical encounter at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the current status of the bilateral relations, and the progress achieved since the announcements of December 17th, 2014, including Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the expansion of official exchanges on issues of common interest, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies.
I conveyed the recognition of our people and government to President Obama for his determination to work for the lifting of the blockade, for urging Congress to eliminate it, and for his willingness to adopt executive measures that modify the implementation of some aspects of this policy. Their scope is still limited, but these are steps taken in the right direction.
Likewise, we have emphasized that, in the meantime, the President of the United States can continue using his executive powers to pay a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade, not to pursue changes in Cuba, something that falls under our exclusive sovereignty, but to attend to the interests of U.S. citizens.
I emphasized that the totally lifting of the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations.
We both ratified our interest in normalizing bilateral relations, knowing that this will be a long and complex process, which will require the willingness of both countries. There are profound differences between Cuba and the United States with regard to our views about the exercise of human rights by all persons all over the world, and also in issues related to international law, which will inevitably persist. But we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, based on the respect for these differences and the development of a constructive dialogue oriented to the wellbeing of our countries and peoples, and this continent, and the entire world.
I expressed to the Secretary of State that he will be welcome in Cuba on the occasion of the ceremony to reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana.
So, Mr. Secretary, I will be waiting for you. (In Spanish.)
FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: (Via translator) We have just had a constructive and respectful meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. It was particularly significant to see that the Cuban flag was raised for the first time after 54 years. We would not have been able to make it through these days without the wise conduction of the historical leadership of the revolution, headed by Fidel Castro, and without the resistance and self-determination of the Cuban people and its firm determination to continue walking down the path that was sovereignly chosen.
We have been able to make it through this stage also thanks to the fraternal support received from Latin America and the Caribbean, the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world, many U.S. and Cuban patriotic citizens who reside in these countries, and who persevered for so many years in their efforts so that Cuba and the United States could have better relations.
With the Secretary of State we have an exchange on the issues discussed by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama during their historical encounter at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the current status of the bilateral relations and the progress achieved since the announcements of December the 17th, including Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism – a place where never Cuba should have been included – and the historic meeting between Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on issues of common interest.
I conveyed the recognition of our people and government to President Obama for his determination to work for the lifting of the blockade, for having urged Congress to eliminate it once and for all, and for his willingness to adopt executive measures that modify the implementation of some aspects of this policy. And although their scope is limited, these are steps taken in the right direction.
We both emphasized that the President of the U.S. can continue to use his executive powers to pay a significant contribution to the modification of aspects of the implementation of the blockade with the purpose of eliminating it, not seeking changes in Cuba, which falls under the exclusive sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba and Cubans, but rather to attend to the best interests of the American citizens.
We have insisted that the total lifting of the blockade is essential to move on towards the normalization of relations, of bilateral relations, as well as the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty, as well as the compensation to our people for human and economic damages.
We reiterated our invitation to all U.S. citizens to exercise their right to travel to Cuba, as they do to the rest of the world, and to the companies of that country to take advantage on an equal footing of the opportunities offered by Cuba.
The Secretary of State and I ratified our interest in normalizing bilateral relations, knowing that this will be a long and complex process which will require the willingness of both countries. I reiterated to the Secretary of State the Cuban Government’s willingness to move on in the process towards the normalization of relations with the United States on the basis of respect, equality, sovereign equality without prejudice to the independence and sovereignty of Cuba, and without any interference in our internal affairs.
It is true that there are profound differences between the governments of Cuba and the United States with regard to our views about the exercise of human rights by all citizens and in the whole planet, and also when it comes to international law, which will inevitably persist. But we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, based on the respect for these differences and the development of a constructive dialogue oriented to the wellbeing of our countries and peoples, this continent, and the entire world.
I expressed to the Secretary of State that he will be welcome in Havana on the occasion of the ceremony to reopen the U.S. embassy. So I will be waiting for you, Secretary, at any moment, and I thank you for your hospitality in Washington. Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Today – our first question today comes from Andrea Mitchell, NBC.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News. Mr. Foreign Minister, Mr. Secretary.
Mr. Secretary, the foreign minister said today at the opening of the embassy that the continuing hold on Guantanamo Bay, on the naval base, is a nefarious consequence of U.S. attempts to dominate the hemisphere, and that only the lifting of the trade embargo and the return of Guantanamo Bay would lend meaning to today’s historic events. Can you respond to those comments and to what the foreign minister just said, which seemed to indicate that those would be a precondition, and that he did not want any interference by the United States in the domestic policies of Cuba?
And what would you like to see in terms of human rights changes or other policy changes, even absent those changes which are congressionally mandated?
And, Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome to the United States. Welcome to the State Department. For all of us who have watched the relationship for so many years, this is truly an historic event. But you seem to be indicating that there are preconditions, including the lifting of the trade embargo and the return of Guantanamo. And do you see any other changes that Cuba might be willing to afford under the request or influence of the U.S. prior to that – those events taking place? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’ll go first. It’s absolutely no surprise, because it’s been a subject of discussion over the course of the time that we have been examining our relationship and working towards today, that there are things that Cuba would like to see happen, there are things the United States would like to see happen. And we’ve both been crystal clear with each other. There’s been no pulling of punches. And I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve built up an ability to be able to get to this moment.
With respect to the embargo, President Obama could not have been more clear. The President has called on Congress to lift the embargo and it is our hope that over the course of the development of the relationship in these next weeks and months and years – and hopefully not too many years – that people will begin to see the benefits that are emerging in both countries as a result of this change today. So we would hope, obviously, that the embargo at the appropriate time will in fact be lifted and that a great deal more foundation can be built for this relationship.
With respect to – and obviously that’s going to take more time; we all understand that. At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station, but we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it and I can’t tell you what the future will bring but for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.
On the other hand, as I said, both sides have very strong feelings. Our – we have expressed and we will always express – because it’s part of the United States foreign policy; it’s part of our DNA as a country – and that is our view of human rights and our thoughts about it. We have shared good thoughts on that. We’ve had good exchanges. And as you know, part of this arrangement that took place involved an exchange of people as well as the release of some people. And our hope is that as time goes on, we’ll continue to develop that.
What we did talk about today was how to further the relationship most effectively, and perhaps through the creation of a bilateral committee that might work together to continue to put focus on these issues so that we can make the most out of this moment not lose the future with respect to the embargo and other issues.
So we’re going to work at that. I think today is the beginning of a constructive effort and that’s the way we want to keep it.
FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: (Via interpreter) We have completed the stage of exchanges to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen the embassies. We have managed to achieve a very important progress in the last few years. In the recent times, the U.S. Government has recognized that the blockade against Cuba is a wrong policy, causing isolation and bringing about humanitarian damages and privations or deprivations to our people, and has committed to engage Congress in a debate with the purpose of lifting the blockade. Second, the President of the U.S. has adopted some executive measures which are still limited in scope but which are oriented in the right direction.
I have had an exchange with Secretary Kerry with regards to the purposes for the following period aimed at the normalization of bilateral relations. We have not spoken about conditions but rather about the need to move on through the dialogue on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect and create a civilized behavior, despite the profound differences that exist between both governments, to better attend to the interests of our respective peoples.
To me, it is very important the fact that today an embassy was reopened in Washington and that diplomatic instruments could be created ensuring full mutual recognition, which is a practical contribution to the development of bilateral dialogue. I have also said that to Cuba, the normalization of relations presupposes the solution of a series of pending problems. Among them, as I have mentioned, the ceasing of the blockade against Cuba, the return of the territory of Guantanamo, and the full respect for the sovereignty of our country. We have confirmed this morning that there are conditions so that the dialogue could be expanded, and – with the purpose of expanding mutually beneficial cooperation between our – both countries and, of course, taking into account the fact that the situation between the U.S. and Cuba is asymmetric because our policy – or our country has not implemented any discriminatory policy against American citizens or enterprises. Cuba does not implement any unilateral coercive economic measure against the U.S. Cuba does not occupy any piece of U.S. territory. Precisely through the dialogue, we are supposed to create the proper conditions to move on towards the normalization of relations.
I can say that I have been pleased with the exchange with Secretary Kerry and that after the announcement of December the 17th, we have been able to establish in the early mornings of today diplomatic relations. We have been able to reopen the embassy, and now I have the opportunity to welcome Secretary Kerry in Havana for the reopening of the U.S. Embassy there in the next few weeks.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Rodriguez, I would like to know what are the advantages that are now in place after the opening of the embassy, taking into consideration that the blockade is still in place? And what are the advantages that we have now that we have an embassy?
And Secretary of State John Kerry, the Government of Cuba has said several times in the past that the diplomats – the American diplomats in Havana – has violated the Vienna Conventions on the legislations of Cuba in their behavior. Is that going to be like that in the future, or are you going to respect the Vienna Convention, as you said in your documents? Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: (Via interpreter) The fact that diplomatic relations have been re-established and that embassies have been reopened in both capitals shows first and foremost the mutual willingness to move on towards the improvement of the relations between our both countries. Second, new instruments are created to further deepen this dialogue under the circumstances that I have described. Third, during the process of our previous conversations, as expressed by the historical letters exchanged between Presidents Raul Castro Ruz and Barack Obama, the basis for the normal functioning of these diplomatic missions would be the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN charter: the principles of international law and the regulations containing the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. Therefore, we have reached agreements in these area, and I can say that Cuba would absolutely respect those provisions. Cuban diplomats will strictly abide by those rules, and we will create in Cuba every necessary condition for the normal functioning of the new U.S. Embassy in our country.
SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible) first what Bruno has said. Obviously, part of the negotiations leading up to the opening of the embassies was the matter of coming to agreement with respect to all of the diplomatic functions. And so we spent time – secretary – under secretary – Assistant Secretary Jacobson was negotiating with her counterpart, and the foreign minister and I then met and we signed off on an agreement which is in accord with the Vienna Conventions and meets both of our countries’ understandings of what is needed and what is appropriate at this moment in time. It could be subject to change later in the future, obviously, but for the moment we are satisfied and we are living within the structure of the Vienna Convention.
MR KIRBY: Next question, Pam Dockins, Voice of America.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Welcome, Foreign Minister Rodriguez. First for you, in your discussions today, did you establish any sort of road map for talks going forward? If so, what are your priorities, and as a result, do you envision a political opening in Cuba on issues such as greater freedom of speech and assembly, and also the legalization of opposition parties?
And Secretary Kerry, if I could switch gears and ask you about Iran nuclear, the UN Security Council vote today on the Iran resolution – critics are saying – of the Iran nuclear deal says this vote will lock them in because it has taken place before Congress has had the opportunity to debate the deal. What is your response to this criticism?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me remind you that I think in the case twice of going to war in previous administrations, the UN Security Council voted before the Congress.
But more importantly, in this particular case with respect to this agreement, we took pains to protect the prerogatives of Congress. We actually got our colleagues in sovereign countries who have no obligation to the Congress to agree to accept 90 days of no implementation of the resolution they voted on today. Now, it’s all well and good, obviously, for the Congress to interact with the executive department and to require us to do things, but frankly, some of these other countries were quite resistant to the idea as sovereign nations that they are subject to the United States Congress. And so we worked out a compromise. And in working out that compromise, we did so in a way that fully protects the prerogative of the United States Congress to review this over the next 60 days. We put a 90-day period in, during which there will be no implementation. So no ability of the Congress has been impinged on. The rights of the Congress to make its evaluation have not changed. But on the other hand, when you’re negotiating with six other countries, it does require, obviously, a measure of sensitivity and multilateral cooperation that has to take into account other nations’ desires at the same time. They were insistent that the vote take place because they were, after all, negotiating under the umbrella of the United Nations. And they thought it was appropriate, when they completed their work, for the United Nations to make its judgment.
I look forward to continuing over the next 60 days to having discussions and testimony and private meetings in whatever forum it is necessary to help convince the Congress that this deal does exactly what it says it does, which is prevents the possibility of a nuclear weapon from falling into the hands of another country while simultaneously opening up the opportunity for the United States to at this moment of time put to test the verification measures and all of those things that Iran has agreed to, rather than choosing today to force the potential of a conflict almost immediately, which is exactly what would happen if the Congress does not accept this agreement.
FOREIGN MINISER RODRIGUEZ: (Via interpreter) My plans are much simpler, which are to welcome Mr. Secretary Kerry in the next few weeks in Havana to continue our talks, to establish the appropriate mechanisms to expand the dialogue in areas related to bilateral cooperation oriented to the common benefit, and to retake our talks about the substantial aspects of the bilateral relations I have mentioned before, which will determine this process towards the normalization of relations.
I should say that he political opening in Cuba happened in the year 1959. The flag that we raised today in the Cuban embassy waited for 54 years to be back to the flagpole put up in this capital. We Cubans feel very happy with way in which we manage our internal affairs. We feel optimistic when it comes to the solution of our difficulties and we are very zealous of our sovereignty, so we will maintain in permanent consultations with our people to change everything that needs to be changed based on the sovereign and exclusive willingness of Cubans.
QUESTION: I have to admit that I’m a little bit lost here with the language, because I’m hearing Secretary Kerry speaking perfect Spanish and Minister Rodriguez speaking perfect English, so I don’t know which language I was – my way to do the original question. But let’s start with Mr. Kerry.
Mr. Secretary, do you think that this new era of relations with Cuba is the recognition that the U.S. policies of isolating countries in Latin America that differ from your political views don’t work? And (b), do you think that the recent trips to Caracas of Mr. Thomas Shannon is the beginning of trying to rebuild the relationship with Venezuela.
(Via interpreter) And my question to Minister Rodriguez: Is it possible to have relations with the U.S. when the U.S. is giving every signal that it is not willing to lift the blockade or the embargo as it is called here, and cannot withdraw from Guantanamo?
And Part B of the question: And for those skeptical people who really see a change of strategy when the U.S. for more than half a century tried to change Cuba from the outside has now implemented a creative way to try to change Cuba from the inside? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: (Via interpreter) I can say that the fact that diplomatic relations are being established and that we are reopening both embassies is a show of the mutual willingness to move on towards the normalization of bilateral relations. In hardly 15 minutes on December last, we heard the President of the United States of Obama recognizing that the U.S. policy against Cuba had been wrong, causing damages and hardships to the Cuban people, and causing isolation to the U.S. This is not a minor thing.
Today, we have opened an embassy of a country recognized as a sovereign country, although this is a small and neighboring island. I should say that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies is appreciated by my country as a signal of progress towards a civilized relationship, despite the differences, and it would lend some meaning only if the blockade is lifted, if we are able to solve the pending problems for more than one century, and if we are able create a new type of relationship between the U.S. and Cuba different from what has existed all along the history.
So in fact, we feel that the recognition of the need to lift the blockade against Cuba, the fact that during the talks that we have had, including this morning’s talks, we have perceived respect for the Cuba’s independence to the full determination of our people, the fact that we can now talk as I think the Secretary and I have talked, on the basis of absolute equal sovereignty despite differences shows that, as facts have shown, that dialogue is fruitful and that the U.S. and Cuba, by a mandate by the American people and the Cuban people, are in the condition to move on towards a future of relations different from the one accumulated throughout our history, responding precisely to the best interests of our citizens.
There is an international order. International law is recognized as the civilized behavior to be adopted by states. There are universally accepted principles, and these have been the ones who have allowed us to reach this date and the ones that we -- will reorient our behavior in our relations in the future.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have learned through my public life that there is nothing harder than trying to change deeply-engrained attitudes and beliefs that are based on personal experience in the case of many people. I learned that, obviously, in the experience where I joined with Senator John McCain in a 10-year effort to try to change our relationship with Vietnam and to really finally make peace, to end a war more than 20 years after the war allegedly had ended, but there were still deep battles within our own country over that issue. And over time, with a great deal of effort, we were able to slowly work to show to people there was a better path.
Just a week or two ago, the party secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam was here in Washington visiting with the President, and we are today trading and working and things are changing rapidly in that country – maybe not as rapidly to some people’s desire as they might want, but they are changing.
So it is in many ways with Cuba, where the passions ran deep and run deep to this day in the United States. There are many Cuban Americans who have contributed in so many ways to life in our country, some of whom are still opposed to a change, some of whom believe it is time to change.
When I served in the United States Senate, there were many of us who believed over a period of time that our policy of isolating was simply not working; we were isolating ourselves in many ways. And we felt that after all those years it was time to try something else. President Obama is doing that now. The President said when he announced this shift of policy, if you’re digging a really deep hole and you just keep getting in deeper but you’re not finding what you’re looking for, it’s time to stop digging. And it is clear that we have chosen a new path, a different path. Already, people tell me who have visited Cuba that they feel a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility. And I am convinced that as we work through these issues we are going to find a better path forward that speaks to the needs of both peoples, both countries. So that is why the President has set us on this course. For years and years and years, it was his perception it was the people of Cuba who were paying the highest price, and we weren’t achieving the kind of relationship that we hoped to have.
With respect to Venezuela, Counselor of the State Department Ambassador Tom Shannon has had several conversations with the Venezuelans. We had a very productive conversation prior to the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The United States has said many times we would like to have a normal relationship with Venezuela and have reached out in an effort to try to change the dialogue, change the dynamics. There are differences that we have with President Maduro and his government, and we raise those differences and we talk about them. Just today, Foreign Minister Rodriguez and I talked specifically about Venezuela and our hopes that we can find a better way forward, because all of the region will benefit if no country is being made a scapegoat for problems within a country, and in fact, all countries are working on solving those problems.
That’s our objective. We hope to continue the dialogue with Venezuela. We hope that our diplomatic relations with Cuba can encourage not only greater dialogue with Venezuela but perhaps even efforts to try to help Colombia to end its more than 50-years war and perhaps even other initiatives. We’re not going to be overflowing with expressions of excessive optimism about where we will find this capacity, but we do know that we’re going to look for it. We do know that we think it makes a difference and we’re going to try and work at it. And I think that is the ultimate benefit that comes out of today. With the beginning of diplomatic relations, we are pledging to engage with each other to talk about our differences, to find places of common endeavor, and to try to build a relationship that benefits the people of Cuba, the people of the United States, the people of the region.
Thank you all very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody. That concludes today’s press conference.
FOREIGN MINISER RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.