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WASHINGTON – The U.S. and Cuba held a second round of negotiations Friday on restoring diplomatic relations after a half-century interruption, although an immediate breakthrough appeared unlikely.
The Obama administration wants embassies reopened by April's summit of North and South American leaders, which presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro are expected to attend. But the Cubans hope first to be removed from a U.S. terrorism list, which prevents them from banking in the U.S. and doing other basic business they would need for an embassy here.
Washington is reviewing that designation but hasn't made a decision yet.
Roberta Jacobson, the State Department's senior Latin America diplomat, led the U.S at the one-day talks at the department. Across the table sat Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for the United States.
At a news conference Friday with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Secretary of State John Kerry said the discussions on re-establishing embassies are technical and distinct from the U.S. legal examination of Cuba's record on terrorism.
"That's one set of fairly normal negotiations with respect to movement of diplomats, access, travel, different things," Kerry told reporters. "The state sponsorship of terrorism designation is a separate process. It is not a negotiation. It is an evaluation that is made under a very strict set of requirements, congressionally mandated, and that has to be pursued separately."
The U.S. declared Cuba a terrorism sponsor in 1982, accusing the communist government of providing haven to members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia's left-wing revolutionary movement FARC.
The State Department's most recent terrorism report said those ties have grown more distant, and noted that Cuba has hosted peace efforts between FARC and Colombia's government. It cited, however, the housing, food and medical support the Cuban government provides fugitives wanted in the United States.
The likelihood of prolonged U.S.-Cuban talks on normalizing ties has dampened somewhat the excitement generated in December when Obama and Castro announced they were exchanging imprisoned spies and were determined to end more than five decades of enmity.
Although the U.S. has eased some trade and travel restrictions, the economic embargo on Cuba remains in force. Cuba still hasn't said if it will meet the American demand for unfettered diplomatic access on the island. And the same democracy and human rights concerns that have long hampered the relationship remain.
Both sides are speaking of the embassies as a first step toward bridging the historic divide between countries separated by only 90 miles.