HAVANA – The United States and Cuba began laying out the path to normalized ties Thursday as the highest-level U.S. delegation to the communist island in more than three decades held a second day of talks in Havana.
Officials from both countries described the morning session as cordial, straightforward and focused on the details of converting their interest sections into embassies.
The details include ending caps on staff, limits on diplomats' movements and, in the case of the U.S. building, removing guard posts and other Cuban structures along the perimeter.
Both sides said they expected the negotiations to require more than Thursday's meeting to resolve, raising the possibility of future rounds. That could set back U.S. hopes of reopening the embassies before April's Summit of the Americas, which Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro are expected to attend.
Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy chief of North American Affairs, said the meeting was productive and took place "in a relaxed atmosphere of respect."
"Look at my face," he said, smiling. "It reflects the spirit in which we've been talking up 'til now."
Cuba is demanding its removal from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which Washington says it is considering.
On Wednesday, the U.S. said it sent additional ships to the Florida Straits to halt Cuban rafters. But Washington rebuffed demands for broader changes to U.S. migration rules that grant virtually automatic legal residency to any Cuban who touches U.S. soil.
Cuba's government blames the Cold War policy for luring tens of thousands of Cubans a year to make perilous journeys by land and sea to try to reach the United States. Still, many Cubans are worried the elimination of the rules would take away their chance to have a better life in the U.S.
In Washington, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said America's "wet foot, dry foot" approach, which generally shields Cubans from deportation if they reach U.S. territory, remains in effect. But he stressed that those trying to come illegally would most likely be interdicted and returned.
U.S. officials reported a spike in the number of rafters attempting to reach Florida after the Dec. 17 announcement that the countries would move to normalize ties. Those numbers appear to have slowed in recent days.
"Cuba wants a normal relationship with the U.S., in the broadest sense but also in the area of migration," said Cuba's head of North American Affairs, Josefina Vidal. She called for the U.S. to end "exceptional treatment that no other citizens in the world receive, causing an irregular situation in the flow of migrants."
American officials instead pressed Cuba to take back tens of thousands of its nationals whom U.S. authorities want to deport because they have been convicted of crimes. No progress was made on that issue, according to an official present in the meeting. The official wasn't authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity.