The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, eliminating a major obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic relations after decades of hostilities.
The decision to remove Cuba from the list is a crucial step in Mr. Obama’s effort to turn the page on a Cold War-era dispute.
It followed a much-anticipated meeting between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama over the weekend, the first such formal session between the leaders of the two countries in more than a half-century.
For more than 30 years, Cuba has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation shared only by Iran, Sudan and Syria.
Cuba’s place on the list has long snarled its access to financial markets and, more recently, emerged as a sticking point in negotiations to reopen embassies that have officially been closed for five decades.
Mr. Obama ordered a review of Cuba’s status in December, when he and Mr. Castro announced that their two nations had agreed to move toward normal relations.
White House officials said Tuesday that Mr. Obama had approved a recommendation by Secretary of State John Kerry to take Cuba off the terrorism list after what officials called a “rigorous” review of Cuba’s record and assurances from Havana that it would not support terrorism in the future.
Cuba will not come off the list until after a 45-day review period, during which a joint resolution to block its removal could be considered in the House and the Senate.
“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.
Mr. Earnest said the president would continue to “support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”
The State Department determined that Cuba had not engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months — a criterion for designating a country a state sponsor of terrorism — and therefore no longer belonged on the list.
Officials declined to elaborate on the assurances they had received from Cuba, but said that in recent years Raúl and Fidel Castro denounced terrorism, most recently in January, when Raúl Castro called the terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo “atrocious.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Cuban government called Mr. Obama’s act a “just decision” and said Cuba should never have been on the list in the first place. “Cuba rejects and condemns all acts of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” the statement said.
Washington’s isolation of Cuba, particularly its embargo of the island, has been a perennial source of hostility in Latin America, uniting governments across the region regardless of ideology.
Even some of Washington’s close allies in the Americas have rallied to Cuba’s side, sometimes making it hard to gain traction on unrelated issues, administration officials have said.
But Obama administration officials, explaining the justification for removing Cuba from the list, went to lengths to suggest that times had changed and that Cuba was not the political thorn it had been.
“The world has changed, and the world has changed particularly in Latin America,” said a senior official, on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about diplomatic issues. The official was alluding to an absence of the kind of insurgencies that Cuba once supported, activity that led to its placement on the list in 1982.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Randal C. Archibold and Julie Hirschfeld Davis