POLITICS

More Migration? Cuba, U.S. Hold Talks In Washington

MIAMI - APRIL 13:  Cuban Americans show their Cuban passports as they purchase tickets to Cuba from a travel agent at Marazul Charters on April 13, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Today, U.S. President Barack Obama  loosened travel restrictions for Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba as well as money transfers to the island.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

MIAMI - APRIL 13: Cuban Americans show their Cuban passports as they purchase tickets to Cuba from a travel agent at Marazul Charters on April 13, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Today, U.S. President Barack Obama loosened travel restrictions for Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba as well as money transfers to the island. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

U.S. and Cuban government officials were meeting in Washington on Wednesday for the latest round of migration talks, a rare chance for dialogue between two countries that have not had full diplomatic relations for more than five decades.

Held every six months to monitor the implementation of 1990s migration accords, the talks often touch on other areas of mutual concern. In the last round, in January, officials discussed issues such as aviation safety, consular document fraud and maritime search and rescue protocols.

The migration talks were suspended in 2011, the same year Cuba sentenced U.S. government development subcontractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison after he was detained with restricted communications equipment while working to set up Internet networks for Jewish groups on the island.

They resumed two years later, along with separate discussions on re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries.

A U.S. State Department announcement called the talks routine and said they do not indicate a change in policy toward Cuba. It added that they are consistent with U.S. interest in ensuring safe, legal and orderly migration between the countries, and an opportunity to talk about things such as civil liberties.

"In our interactions with the Cubans, the United States also regularly raises our concerns about the continued detention of Alan Gross, the poor state of human rights in Cuba and fugitives from U.S. justice," the announcement said.

Havana has said it is willing to talk about Gross' case and any other matter, but it also wants to negotiate the fate of three Cuban intelligence agents serving long prison terms in the United States.

The State announcement said the delegations at the one-day migration talks were headed by Alex Lee, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Josefina Vidal, the top official for North American affairs at Cuba's Foreign Ministry.

U.S.-Cuba relations were severed in 1961 at the height of Cold War tensions. Since the late 1970s, however, Washington and Havana have maintained diplomatic missions in each other's capitals that are technically "interests sections" of the respective Swiss embassies.

The U.S. economic and financial embargo against Cuba has been in effect since 1962.

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