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Now that it is official that the United States is re-establishing an embassy in Havana, attention is turning to who would be the ambassador.
The most widely expected choice is Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who has been the top diplomat in Havana for about a year.
Although President Barack Obama’s administration has not singled out a favorite candidate for the post, The Hill quoted a senior official as saying that the White House is happy with DeLaurentis at the diplomatic helm in Cuba.
“Many people mention Jeff DeLaurentis,” said Scott Gilbert, a lawyer who heads Reneo, a Washington-based legal-strategic consulting firm, and who has been meeting with U.S. and Cuban officials and providing advice through the process of re-establishing ties.
“I’m going to meet with him this afternoon – the meeting was already planned – and I’m going to give him a hug,” said Gilbert, who represented Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who was freed from a Cuba jail in December after being held for five years.
Gilbert, who supports lifting the U.S. embargo, said DeLaurentis is highly respected for his diplomacy work.
The official quoted in The Hill said that while it’s very possible that another candidate might emerge, DeLaurentis might not face as hostile a confirmation process in the Senate, where Republicans have a majority and many of its members – including New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, who is Cuban-American – have vowed to block the naming of an ambassador if there is no deep democratic reform in Cuba.
Since Obama announced in December an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to restore relations, political observers have described DeLaurentis as being more about business and middle-of-the-road than an ideologue, something that makes him palatable to Cuban officials, who long have viewed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana as focused on undermining the Communist government and trying to encourage opposition to the Castro brothers.
“He’s a smart guy, very committed, always concerned about issues of democracy, and he’s very professional, level-headed. He thinks through issues,” said Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group in an interview with The Daily Beast.
DeLaurentis has gone before the Senate for confirmation — in 2011, for a U.N. position. And he worked in Havana on two previous occasions.
Schneider noted that points out that DeLaurentis has been in his post in Cuba since the summer, so he’s been in on all the pre-planning that’s gone on unbeknownst to much of Washington for some time.
Another candidate, according to Foreign Policy magazine, is former Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, who long has spoken in favor of establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.
But Foreign Policy added that “several officials” said that the administration was nowhere close to deciding on a nominee to be the ambassador in Cuba.
That said, in a February interview with the Harvard Crimson, DeLaurentis seemed to indicate that he sees himself well positioned to be the ambassador.
“I have ambassadorial rank in the State Department because my prior position at the U.N. was a Senate-confirmed ambassadorial position,” he was quoted as saying. “So that’s very important because one of the things we will be doing when we reestablish diplomatic relations down the line is that the president will be nominating a new American ambassador to Cuba.”