Fidel’s letter is hot topic at State Dept. briefing

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday (Jan. 27) described Fidel Castro’s published comments on the new approach to U.S.-Cuba relations as “a positive sign” and said that Washington “look[s] forward to the Cuban Government implementing those international norms and principles for a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba.”

In a letter released Monday, Castro had written that “any peaceful and negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America […] should be treated in accordance with international principles and norms.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki pointedly told reporters at the daily news briefing that “our negotiations and the process moving forward is with the Cuban Government,” suggesting that Fidel, 88 and no longer the president, is not an active player in the ongoing negotiations. The following exchange took place:

Q.: Does that mean that you think that Fidel Castro has no influence or role in his brother’s government?

A.: Well, technically, he’s not an official part, as you know. […] I don’t have any other analysis of his influence, but I think you know who the interlocutors are in this case. […] I don’t think anyone thinks that Fidel Castro is planning to be a part of, or will be a part of [the negotiations].”

Further, she said that the published comments were “purportedly from Fidel Castro.” Asked whether she had received “any indication from the Cuban side that those comments were actually written by Fidel Castro himself,” she answered, “I don’t have any other confirmation of that.”

To a reporter who asked if she was disappointed by Castro’s expressed distrust in U.S. policy, she answered that “it’s not about trust, it’s about what’s in the interest of the people of Cuba, what’s in the interest of our own national security interests, our economic interests, and that’s why we’re pursuing this new path forward.”

“Do you also have a lack of trust in Cuba?” the reporter asked.

“Well, there are places where we have a lack of trust, but there are diplomatic reasons and strategic reasons to pursue a different path forward,” Psaki replied. “It’s fair to say there’s a lack of trust, but we’re working to build that trust.”

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Psaki said. “Obviously, Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson had a first round of talks. The next step is we’ve invited Cuban officials to Washington in the coming weeks. That’s not yet set, but obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Without giving details, Psaki said that the Cuban “foreign minister [Bruno Rodríguez] has been who the Secretary [John Kerry] has been engaged with, but Assistant Secretary Jacobson has had negotiations and discussions with Josefina Vidal,” the top U.S. specialist at the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

It was the first time that the State Department had acknowledged direct contact between Rodríguez and Kerry.

Psaki ended the questioning on Cuba by repeating that the date for the next bilateral meeting “isn’t quite set yet” and that her office “will have more on that in the coming days or weeks.”

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