President Obama intends to remove Cuba from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, the White House said Tuesday.
The president took the formal step of submitting to Congress the requisite report and certifications indicating the administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.
The Republican-controlled Congress has 45 days to vote on supporting or blocking the decision to remove Cuba from the list.
The president’s decision, a further step toward normalizing relations with the communist country, comes after his review of a State Department report and recommendation on the matter.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States “has and continues to have significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions.”
However, the review focused on the narrow questions of whether Cuba provided support for international terrorism over the past six months and whether the country provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future, Kerry said.
A top Senate Democrat immediately hailed the president’s decision.
“The removal of Cuba from the … list is a welcome move,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat. “ While no fan of the Castro regime, I continue to believe that opening up the island to American ideas, vibrancy, and trade is the most effective way to see a more open and tolerant Cuba.”
Still, the effort faces at least some bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, particularly from New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, both Cuban-Americans.
"The decision made by the White House today is a terrible one, but not surprising," said Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 2016 presidential candidate. "Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. They harbor fugitives of American justice."
He said the decision also "sends a chilling message to our enemies aboard that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
Obama’s decision comes long after the United States stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism.
Cuba was one of four countries on the U.S. list accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism. The remaining countries are Iran, Syria and Sudan.
Obama announced in December that the U.S. and Cuba were ending a half-century of hostilities, which has in part allowed travel between the countries.
Cuba was put on the list in 1982 due to its efforts to promote armed revolution by organizations that used terrorism, according to the White House.
Obama instructed the State Department to conduct the review as part of his December 2014 announcement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.