WASHINGTON (AP) — Cuba and the United States took a tentative step toward thawing relations and resuming joint efforts to address irregular migration, a senior Cuban official said following the highest-level talks between the two countries in four years.
There were no major breakthroughs, but the mere fact that the US was holding substantive talks was a sign relations might be looking better under President Joe Biden after going into deep freeze under his predecessor, Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said Friday.
“They seem committed. They ratified that they are committed to the agreements in place," Fernandez de Cossio said. "So we have no reason to mistrust what they’re saying, but time will tell.”
The talks did not focus on broader US-Cuba relations but more narrowly on restoring adherence to previous agreements that were intended to curtail the often-dangerous irregular migration from the island to the United States.
“These talks helped both of us to understand the nature and the magnitude of the problem we’re facing," the deputy foreign minister said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Cuban ambassador's residence outside Washington.
US officials want Cuba to resume taking back flights of deported migrants, which it stopped doing at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuban authorities, meanwhile, want to see the US follow through on its plan to restore consular services in Havana, so people can once again get visas to legally come to the United States, as well as change other policies that it believes encourage irregular migration from the island.
“They asked us to renew the flights because it was an important element of deterrence," he said. "We said we agree that is an important element of deterrence. We explained that we needed to do in an integral manner, and they understood this.”
It was a more detailed rundown of the talks than what was provided by the US a day earlier. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the meeting “underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba where appropriate to advance US interests.”
The talks take place against the backdrop of relations that sharply deteriorated under President Donald Trump and amid a sharp increase in the number of Cubans seeking to enter the US along the Southwest border.