WASHINGTON – A plan to send three U.S. relief specialists to Cuba (search) to assess damage from Hurricane Wilma has been put on hold because Cuba wanted to turn the visit into a discussion of unrelated issues, the State Department said Wednesday.
Cuban officials insisted on using the mission to discuss their vision for "regional disaster response," spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
"We are unwilling to turn a humanitarian mission into a political dialogue on issues not related to providing relief to the Cuban victims of Hurricane Wilma (search)," he said.
McCormack noted that the United States is providing Cuba $100,000 in hurricane relief that is being distributed through independent non-governmental organizations.
Cuba informed the United States of its willingness to accept a disaster-assistance team on Oct. 26. Preparations were made for the three to travel to island on short notice.
McCormack said that in subsequent discussions with Cuban officials, it was evident that their view of the mission differed from the State Department's plans.
"The assessment team offer remains on the table," he said.
Cuba's initial acceptance of the team was seen as a rare show of cooperation between the two neighbors, which have been at odds during all of President Fidel Castro (search)'s 46 years in power.
Castro alluded to the changed nature of the mission in comments last Friday.
He made it clear that his motive in allowing the visit was to discuss ways to share information about hurricane preparedness and improve disaster assistance among countries in the region.
Castro's comments were seen as an effort to have his country dealt with as a competent partner in the hurricane relief arrangements, not a helpless developing nation looking for a handout.