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12/21/13 - Reuters - Cuba president notes tone of recent relations with US 

By Marc Frank

HAVANA  Sat Dec 21, 2013 5:03pm EST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday called on the
United States to establish civilized relations with his country,
recognizing a new tone in bilateral talks on secondary issues while
reiterating that the country's political and economic system were
non-negotiable.

The United States and Cuba have appeared more positive of late as talks
around immigration, postal services, disaster prevention and other security
issues have taken place, with officials from both countries cautiously
welcoming each other's pragmatism and seriousness in interviews with
Reuters.

Castro, closing a year-end meeting of the parliament, said that recently
the two countries, bitter foes for more than half a century, had been able
"to hold conversations on topics of mutual interest."

"We think we can resolve other matters of interest," he said, without
elaborating.

Castro said that "a civilized relationship between both countries" was
something "our people and the immense majority of U.S. citizens and Cuban
immigrants desire."

Castro's speech came just two weeks after he and U.S. President Barack
Obama shook hands at a memorial for the late Nelson Mandela.

The White House played down the handshake, saying it was unplanned and went
no further than pleasantries.

Still, the meeting had resonance because of the surprise warming in recent
months with several instances of cooperation.

U.S. and Cuban officials overcame a series of potentially divisive
incidents this summer, including the interception of a shipment of Cuban
weapons headed for North Korea, with mutual displays of prudent diplomacy
rarely seen since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

At a fund-raising dinner in Miami last month, Obama said that it may be
time for the United States to revise its policies toward Cuba, against
which a trade embargo has been in place for more than half a century.

Obama questioned whether the policy that was put in place in 1961 remains
an effective way of dealing with U.S. differences with the Communist-ruled
island nation.

While Castro on Saturday seemed to be holding out an olive branch, at the
same time he reiterated Cuba's position, held since the 1959 revolution,
that neither Cuba's one-party rule, nor its economic system, were on the
table.

"We do not demand that the United States change its political and social
system, nor do we accept negotiating ours," he said.

"If we really want to move forward in our bilateral relations, we have to
learn to mutually respect our differences and become accustomed to
peacefully living with them," he said to applause from the parliament
deputies.

A significant breakthrough in relations remains unlikely while Cuba
continues to detain a U.S. government contractor, Alan Gross, who was
arrested 4 years ago for what Cuba saw as a subversive effort to promote
political change.

Gross said he was in Cuba to set up communications equipment to give
unrestricted Internet access to Jewish groups. A Cuban judge said that
activity was a crime against the state and sentenced Gross to 15 years.

It remains unclear what steps the Obama administration can take to obtain
Gross's release. Cuba has hinted it would release him in return for four
Cubans jailed on espionage charges in the United States, but Washington has
flatly ruled that out.

(Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)


Original Source / Fuente Original:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/21/us-cuba-usa-raulcastro-idUSBRE9BK0E820131221


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