Cuba, US Formally Restore Relations

Cuba, US Formally Restore RelationsCuba, US Formally Restore Relations

Cuba and the US ushered in a new era of post-Cold War relations on Monday, formally restoring diplomatic ties severed more than five decades ago and reestablishing embassies in each other’s capitals.

Just past the stroke of midnight, the two countries reached a new milestone in the historic thaw that began with a breakthrough announcement by US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on December 17, Reuters reported.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the raising of the Cuban flag Monday morning for the first time in 54 years over a mansion that will again serve as Havana’s embassy in Washington.

The significant symbolic event was followed by a meeting at the US State Department between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister on an official visit to Washington since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Kerry will travel to Havana on August 14 to raise American flag over the US embassy in Cuba, senior administration officials and diplomatic sources said. Kerry's historic trip will mark the first secretary of state to visit to the island since 1945.

Even before the ceremony, the US Interests Section in Havana, long serving as Washington's de facto diplomatic post there, issued a statement announcing that on Monday it "officially became US Embassy in Havana."

However, differences remain and efforts toward full normalization between the two sides are expected to proceed slowly. Monday's steps culminated more than two years of negotiations between governments that had long shunned each other.

More than 500 people attended the Cubans’ festivities in Washington, including members of Congress.

Kerry and Rodriguez last met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama and Castro also held talks. Aides see the outreach to Cuba as a boost to Obama's legacy.

The re-establishment of embassies, agreed to on July 1, opens a new chapter of engagement by easing government contacts heavily constrained since the US broke off relations in 1961.

A full-service US mission in Havana could offer some reassurance to companies interested in investing in Cuba and also help seed the way for more travel to the island by American citizens which is still heavily restricted.