Costa Rica, El Salvador to Re-Establish Ties With Cuba

Costa Rica said Wednesday it will re-establish diplomatic ties with communist Cuba, and El Salvador's new president-elect promised to do the same after he takes office.

They are the only Central American nations that currently do not recognize the Cuban government. Costa Rica broke off ties with Havana in 1961, while El Salvador has not recognized the island's government since 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said his country recognizes many governments that are politically different from his own, including China. Cuba should be treated the same, he argued.

"I'm taking this step convinced that times change and Costa Rica must change, too," he said, adding that Costa Rica and Cuba would both name ambassadors soon.

While Costa Rican media have speculated this week that the country could be taking steps to reunite with Cuba, Arias' announcement was largely a surprise.

It appeared to be coincidental that the decision was made public on the same day that Salvadoran President-elect Mauricio Funes reiterated his campaign pledge to re-establish relations with Havana.

Funes said he will make his decision official after he takes office June 1. He also said he wants to strengthen trade with the island.

Funes made the comments hours before he met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, who said afterward that Washington is looking forward to working with Funes on economic and social development and on fighting organized crime.

"We are a partner of good faith and good will, and we are willing to work with the president-elect," Shannon said.

Shannon brushed off a question about Cuba, saying that "in diplomacy, as in life, the honeymoon isn't the important thing. What's important is the marriage."

"We are going to make sure this marriage is healthy and working. ... We are going to establish a dialogue in a spirit of cooperation and the recognition that El Salvador is a sovereign country," he said.

On Sunday, Funes became the first leftist president elected in El Salvador since the country's brutal civil war ended in 1992.

Earlier Wednesday, President Barack Obama telephoned Funes to congratulate him on his election and the people of El Salvador for their commitment to democratic elections.