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More Talks With Cuba Are Needed To Repair Broken Relations


Talks between U.S. and Cuban diplomats in Havana ended cordially, according the both sides. The talks focused mostly on the logistics of converting diplomatic outposts in both countries into full-fledged embassies. But there was no avoiding the deep ideological differences that have long divided these two countries, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Havana.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: If there was one theme that came out of the historic summit here in Havana, it would be we agree to disagree. After all, it's hard to repair a relationship that's been so acrimonious for so long. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba since the Carter administration, says undoubtedly the process will be challenging.

ROBERTA JACOBSON: To overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust.

KAHN: There are things we have to discuss first, says Jacobson, yet she declined to put any preconditions on opening embassies or assigning ambassadors.

JACOBSON: The establishment of diplomatic relations really does not have a checklist or a template that one has to follow every time.

KAHN: She did say Cuba's human rights record is of major concern to the U.S. Cuba's lead diplomat at the talks, Josefina Vidal, was not shy about specifying her country's concerns.

JOSEFINA VIDAL: We expressed that it would be difficult to explain that diplomatic relations have been resumed while Cuba is still unjustly listed as a state sponsor of international terrorism.

KAHN: President Obama ordered a review of the communist nation's placement on the list, which Cuba says has caused severe repercussions. Vidal says Cuba's Interests Section in Washington can't find a U.S. bank willing to work with it because of the designation. And she says the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba must be lifted. But Vidal, switching to Spanish, says Cuba will not waiver from its one-party rule or centrally planned economy in exchange for better treatment.

VIDAL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "No one should assume that in order to improve relations Cuba will renounce its principles," she says. Opponents of the communist regime aren't surprised by such hard-line comments. Jose Daniel Ferrer, who heads one of the largest dissident groups on the island, says while he's optimistic the warmer relations might bring about much-needed changes in Cuba, he's also a realist.

JOSE DANIEL FERRER: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I'm worried that economic interests could take priority and improvement of Cuba's human rights situation will be pushed aside," says the 44-year-old Ferrer. He says he's seen before how Cuban diplomats skillfully give away very little and receive much in return. On the streets of Havana, expectations of what warmer relations could bring ran high. On a busy street corner, as old model cars and busses belch black diesel exhaust, about a hundred people line up to get in the country's most famous ice cream parlor, Copellia.

TERESA SARABIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are two countries that are so close, practically family," says Teresa Sarabia, who's in line with her husband. "We should be able to work things out and soon," she says. She wants to go visit her older brother in Orlando, Florida. She hasn't seen him in 30 years. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on