The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

June 21, 2013

Cuba, US try talking, but face many obstacles

HAVANA (AP) — They've hardly become allies, but Cuba and the U.S. have taken some baby steps toward rapprochement in recent weeks that have people on this island and in Washington wondering if a breakthrough in relations could be just over the horizon.

Skeptics caution that the Cold War enemies have been here many times before, only to fall back into old recriminations. But there are signs that views might be shifting on both sides of the Florida Straits.

In the past week, the two countries have held talks on resuming direct mail service, and announced a July 17 sit-down on migration issues. In May, a U.S. federal judge allowed a convicted Cuban intelligence agent to return to the island. This month, Cuba informed the family of jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross that it would let an American doctor examine him, though the visit has apparently not yet happened. Castro has also ushered in a series of economic and social changes, including making it easier for Cubans to travel off the island.

Under the radar, diplomats on both sides describe a sea change in the tone of their dealings.

Only last year, Cuban state television was broadcasting grainy footage of American diplomats meeting with dissidents on Havana streets and publically accusing them of being CIA front-men. Today, U.S. diplomats in Havana and Cuban Foreign Ministry officials have easy contact, even sharing home phone numbers.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for North American affairs, recently traveled to Washington and met twice with State Department officials — a visit that came right before the announcements of resumptions in the two sets of bilateral talks that had been suspended for more than two years. Washington has also granted visas to prominent Cuban officials, including the daughter of Cuba's president.

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