Picture this: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, standing on a stage, shaking hands – in Havana.
That may come to pass if White House Secretary Josh Earnest’s comments at a press briefing are any indication.
“I know there’s one person particularly that hopes President Obama will be in Havana at some point in the — at some point in the relatively recent future, and that’s President Obama himself,” Earnest said at the White House press conference Thursday, according to published reports.
Earnest made the statement in response to a question by a reporter from Cuba who was covering the talks in Washington D.C. between U.S. and Cuban officials about re-opening embassies in both nations.
With Cuba and the United States taking significant steps since December to restore diplomatic relations, many have raised the question about whether Obama would become the first sitting U.S. president in decades to visit the island.
In December, after Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations, and steps to ease U.S.-Cuba restrictions on trade and travel, he said, according to the Washington Post: “With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.”
“There’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part,” he said at the time.
Since the restoration of talks in December, many U.S. national and state lawmakers have traveled to Cuba, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who led a delegation of Democrats from her chamber on a visit in February.
Five months after Obama and Castro announced their intention to improve ties, U.S. and Cuban diplomats on Friday completed a fourth round of talks on re-opening embassies without ironing out enough of the differences that have accumulated over a half-century of estrangement to fully restore diplomatic relations.
Even as many of the biggest hurdles have been cleared, Washington and Havana are still wrangling over American demands that its diplomats be able to travel throughout Cuba and meet dissidents without restrictions. The Cubans are wary of activity they see as destabilizing to their government.
Many Republicans and some Democrats, including Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and son of Cuban immigrants, oppose restoring ties with Cuba while the Castro regime still resists making democratic reforms, particularly allowing political opposition and freedom of expression.
On Thursday, House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, spoke of House “members who were interested in stopping this progression toward normal relations with Cuba, until such time as the [Cubans] begin to make serious changes in terms of the way they run their country.”
The speaker, according to the Washington Post, said the Obama administration “keeps giving and giving and giving. But the Castro brothers . . . are doing nothing.”
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