Cuba Removed From US Terror Blacklist

Cuba Removed From US Terror BlacklistCuba Removed From US Terror Blacklist

The US State Department formally removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a largely symbolic step clearing the way for normalizing diplomatic relations 54 years after the two countries severed ties upon Cuba’s communist revolution.

Removal from the list, announced by the department on Friday, came as the Congress made no move to block the action within 45 days after US President Barack Obama unveiled plans to do so on April 14.

“While the US has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” Jeff Rathke, a department spokesman, said in a statement, Bloomberg reported.

The two nations intend to restore full diplomatic relations, including opening embassies in Washington and Havana and returning ambassadors to the two countries for the first time since the US severed diplomatic relations with the island in January 1961. The removal of Cuba from the terrorism list had been a key Cuban demand.

“It’s hard to put a timeline on it,” Rathke told a press conference. “We’ve gotten closer each time,” he said of continuing US-Cuba talks.

When the remaining issues are resolved, the Obama administration will give Congress 15 days’ notice of its intent to reopen an embassy in Havana and will seek to name an ambassador.

Embargo Remains

Removal from the terrorism list does not affect the US trade embargo against Cuba, which can’t be lifted without action by Congress. Cuba was added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982 by former president Ronald Reagan.

House Speaker John Boehner vowed that the House will make sure the sanctions remain in place. Boehner also said the Obama administration had "handed [the Cuban President] Raul Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing."

In April, Obama cited a four-month interagency review that concluded Cuba was no longer providing support for groups recognized by the US as international terrorists.

Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time that removal from the list does not mean the US has resolved its differences with Cuba over other issues.

The move toward normalized relations was announced by Obama and Castro on December 17, which opened the door for talks in each capital on conditions each side wanted fulfilled.

Cuba has insisted since the first talks in Havana in January that it never belonged on the terrorism list and would have to be removed before it would agree to restore ties and reopen embassies.

Banks Cautious

Banks continue to take a cautious tone about doing business with Cuba since US laws still make the island off limits for US businesses. Leaders of the Republicans-controlled House have shown no interest in repealing the laws from the 1990s that codified the US embargo on trade with Cuba.

"Taking Cuba off the terrorism list is one step toward normalization, but for doing business down there, we have a long way to go," said Rob Rowe, vice president and associate chief council at the American Bankers Association.

In a blog post, the White House called the decision on the terrorism list another step toward improving relations with Cuba. "For 55 years, we tried using isolation to bring about change in Cuba," it said. "But by isolating Cuba from the US, we isolated the US from the Cuban people and, increasingly, the rest of the world."

The terrorism list was a particularly charged issue for Cuba because of the US history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight from Barbados that killed 73 people aboard.

The attack was linked to Cubans with ties to US-backed anti-Castro groups and both men accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Carriles, currently lives.