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U.S. Earns Clout With OAS Deal on Cuba, Analysts Say

U.S. support for ending Cuba's nearly 50-year-old suspension from the Organization of American States has given the Obama administration greater clout in the region at little cost, according to diplomats and experts.

But President Obama's efforts to engage Havana and promote reform on the communist island did not appear greatly advanced by the OAS move because Cuba has no plans to rejoin the organization.

And prospects for improved U.S.-Cuba ties may have been damaged by Friday's federal charges against a former State Department intelligence analyst for allegedly spying for Cuba over a 30-year period.

The administration has been denounced by conservative lawmakers for accepting the OAS compromise, and many of those critics probably will seize on the espionage case to argue against further engagement.

Still, regional experts do not believe the U.S. change of position at the OAS signals any real shift in policy.

By agreeing to revoke the 1962 suspension but persuading Latin American nations to link Cuba's return to democratic reform, the administration has given the appearance of making concessions.

In reality, the U.S. decision carefully ensured there will be no short-term change in Cuba's status within the OAS, experts said.

"I presume the U.S. accepted it because they didn't think anything would happen with the Cubans meeting the conditions," said Sydney Weintraub, a Latin American analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The step could improve Obama's chances to re-engage with leftist and leftward-drifting leaders in the hemisphere. Experts said bowing to demands for the suspension to be lifted looks like a shift and will be welcomed in Latin America, where leaders bristle at perceived U.S. arrogance and oppose Washington's isolation of Havana.

It also may have salvaged the credibility of the OAS, which had been in danger of splintering over Cuba.

"This was the right decision from the point of view of the OAS and the U.S. as well," said Mauricio Cardenas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

He said keeping Cuba out of the OAS by means of the Cold War-era suspension "was not sustainable" because the country no longer was exporting Marxist revolution.

"This shows that the U.S. wants to engage with Latin America in a different way and not by imposing its views," he said.

U.S. diplomats led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who negotiated the agreement at the annual OAS General Assembly in Honduras last week, claimed victory in killing a resolution proposed by leftist leaders that would have allowed Cuba to return to the group without conditions.

"I am pleased that everyone came to agree that Cuba cannot simply take its seat and that we must put Cuba's participation to a determination down the road -- if it ever chooses to seek re-entry," Clinton said after two days of diplomatic arm-twisting.

U.S. officials were quick to point out that the resolution requires Cuba to ask for readmission. Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, who accuse the OAS of being a tool for U.S. domination of the Western Hemisphere, have said they are not interested.

"They would have to swallow that to ask to get into the organization," said Dan Restrepo, a National Security Council official who helped negotiate the text.

He said this will be a "difficult decision for a Cuban government that has spent 40 years railing against an institution because of its defense of democracy and individual human rights."

On Thursday a senior Cuban communist official, parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon, said Cuba was pleased with the decision because it corrected a long-standing "injustice." But he said Cuba had no plans to rejoin the OAS.

That made little difference to anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress who savaged the move and the administration's support for it and threatened to withhold U.S. money for the OAS. The U.S. provides about 60 percent of the OAS budget. "The OAS is a putrid embarrassment," said Florida Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, who are both Cuban-American. They said the U.S. position was "an example of the Obama administration's absolute diplomatic incompetence and its unrestricted appeasement of the enemies of the United States."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Cuban-American Florida Republican, said the action was "an affront to the Cuban people and to all who struggle for freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights."

Weintraub and others disagree.

"This may have been too clever by half," Weintraub said, suggesting that initial euphoria among Cuban allies such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia would dissipate when they realize that Cuba won approval to join only if it adopts fundamental democratic reform.

Cardenas said the OAS decision would promote change in Cuba in the medium- to long-term because the country stands to benefit financially from returning to the OAS. Membership would entitle it to funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.