U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met at the 70th United Nations General Assembly and had a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the improvement on bilateral relations.
The Cold War foes have eased the animosity in the previous months with restoring diplomatic relations on the 20th of July with the mediation by Pope Francis that helped the two countries achieve détente last year and reopen embassies in Havana and Washington. The announcement took everyone by surprise, and conservative Republicans in particular were very opposed to the decision. It was expected since Obama first shook hands with Castro in December of 2013 at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Ever since his first term in office Obama has been pushing for closing the Guantanamo detention facility located on Cuban territory. However, the trade embargo imposed on Cuba has not yet been lifted and is under opposition in the Republican led Congress.
According to Reuters, Castro in his speech in front of the United nations General Assembly on Monday said that two countries will only really normalize their bilateral relations if the United States returns the Guantanamo U.S. naval base to Cuban authorities and lifts the trade embargo.
Obama in his speech at the United Nations also said that he is confident that the Congress will eventually lift the trade embargo, but reiterated that even though his administration pushes for closing the Guantanamo prison, they are not willing to close down the naval base and return the territories.
The two men also discussed human rights issues in Cuba and their economic cooperation, as well as some regulatory changes that were announced this month.
According to Reuters, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “The President, as he always does, sort of reaffirmed our commitment to seeing the Cuban government do a better job of not just
respecting, but actually proactively protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people. We continue to believe that the deeper engagement and deeper people-to-people ties, deeper economic engagement between the United States and Cuba will have the effect moving the government and the nation in a positive direction.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez has emphasized the points of Guantanamo and trade embargo and called the meeting “respectful and constructive.” He also added “The pace of the process toward normalization of relations between the Cuba and the United States will depend on the lifting of the blockage.” He said that Cuba will propose an anti-blockade resolution on the 27th of October and stated “For as long as the blockade persists we will continue to present these draft resolutions.”
The meeting is the second time in a period of six month. They last met in Panama in April. President Obama hopes that the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba after century hostility will remain a part of his legacy.