HAVANA – Highly anticipated immigration negotiations between Cuba and the United States in Havana have been pushed back from this month to February at the communist island's request because of scheduling concerns, a State Department official said Friday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press on the issue, told The Associated Press that both sides intend to continue holding periodic negotiations on immigration issues twice a year, but that bureaucratic concerns derailed talks that had been scheduled for early December.
"At the Cuban government's request, the talks have been rescheduled for February," he said.
Regularly scheduled discussions between the U.S. and Cuba were limited to immigration issues from 1994 until they were canceled under President George W. Bush in 2003. Both sides met to discuss the issue in New York in July and called that session positive.
Cuba and the United States have also revived talks to restore direct mail service between both countries since President Barack Obama took office, and in September, Bisa Williams, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, traveled to Havana for those discussions.
She then stayed an extra six days and even met with Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez, however, raising hopes for a thaw in nearly a half century of ice-cold relations.
But the postponement of immigration discussions is the latest in a series of small signs neither side may be quite ready for reconciliation after so much discord for so long.
In recent weeks, President Obama sent a message to Cuba's top dissident blogger after she said she was roughed up by security agents, and prominent American black leaders have denounced racism on the island — prompting a blistering Thursday night response from Cuban artists, writers and intellectuals.
Cuba also conducted war games against a possible U.S. invasion and Fidel Castro and state-run media have blasted Washington for supporting the presidential election in Honduras, which Cuba claims legitimizes a government that took power in a June military coup, and for a pact with Colombia that allows American soldiers increased access to seven military bases in that country.