US mulls informal talks with Cuba: report

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2009 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama's administration is hoping to relaunch communication channels with Cuba after 50 years of adversarial relations, US media reported Sunday.

"Informal meetings" were being planned between the US State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States "to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues," The New York Times said.

The wide-ranging talks would cover topics such as drug trafficking and migration. More cultural and academic exchanges were also being considered, the Times said, citing White House and State Department officials who declined to be named.

The talks would serve to "test the waters" to determine whether the United States and Cuba could engage in a "serious, civil, open relationship," a senior administration official said.

Washington was "ready to talk about a series of issues," the official said, cautioning that "this thing with Cuba is going to take a lot of time, and it may not work."

Obama has lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba.

But the US president has come under pressure from Latin American leaders and some of his fellow Democrats to put an end to the 47-year-old economic embargo that Obama said would stay in place until Cuba gave more freedoms to its people.

A State Department official told the Times that growing pressure for a new US policy toward Cuba was a "steamroller," and that the administration was "trying to drive it, rather than get run over by it."

The official said any outreach to Cuba would be made cautiously and does not indicate the United States would ignore Havana's bleak human rights record.

Another State Department official said the United States would not wait for Havana to first take some of the steps sought by the Obama administration.

"I don't think we want to paint a big red line in the sand to preclude any conversations," the official said. "We need to begin having conversations."

Source: AFP

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