Cuba seeks 'respectful' talks with Trump govt: Castro

Cuba seeks 'respectful' talks with Trump govt: Castro

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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BAVARO, Dominican Republic (AFP) — Cuba is willing to hold "respectful dialogue" with Donald Trump, President Raul Castro said Wednesday, following the new US leader's warnings that he may halt the two countries' rapprochement.

"I wish to express Cuba's desire to continue negotiating on current bilateral issues with the United States on a basis of equality, reciprocity and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country," Castro said.

He added that he was willing "to pursue respectful dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest with the new government of President Donald Trump."

Castro, 85, was addressing a summit of the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting in the Dominican Republic.

Trump said in November he may end the diplomatic thaw if Cuba does not make more concessions on human rights — an issue on which Havana has refused to be lectured.

Castro warned Wednesday that although the two countries could "cooperate and live together in a civilized way," Cuba could not be expected to "make concessions on matters inherent to its sovereignty and independence."

- Historic thaw -

The restoration of diplomatic ties by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama and Castro in 2015 was a historic breakthrough in a Cold War dispute dating to the 1950s.

Since Raul Castro took the reins of power from his brother Fidel in 2006, Cuba has gradually opened up its economy and foreign relations. Fidel Castro died on November 25.

Obama and Raul Castro further eased some economic and trade restrictions, although Washington's main trade embargo on Cuba remains in place.

The embargo causes "considerable deprivation" on the communist island, Castro said Wednesday.

"Therefore, we will continue to be immersed in developing our economic and social model and we will continue fighting to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, prosperous and sustainable country."

Before leaving office this month, Obama scrapped a 1995 policy that had given near-automatic entry to the US to Cubans who managed to set foot on American soil, regardless of their visa status.

That was seen as a further step toward normalizing ties with Havana.

Cubans hoping to reach the US, speaking to AFP at the time from Panama, lamented the move and said they hoped Trump would reverse it.

Trump's crackdown on immigration, however, leaves prospects for such a reversal looking uncertain.

- Region frets over Trump -

Castro was addressing Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathered in the Dominican beach resort of Bavaro to discuss regional trade, migration and drug policies.

Their host, Dominican President Danilo Medina, expressed apprehension about Trump's moves to scrap free trade agreements with countries in the region.

The countries represent 620 million inhabitants in a poor region largely dependent on trade with the United States.

Trump has threatened to protect US jobs by revising international trade accords with key countries in the region such as Mexico, Peru and Chile.

Trump on Wednesday signed an order enacting his pledge to "build a wall" along the Mexican border to stop migrants entering the United States illegally.

In the region, there are also questions over what approach Trump will take to Venezuela's volatile economic crisis and Colombia's historic peace process.

The leaders also discussed drug crime in the region, a major source of cocaine smuggled to the United States and Europe.

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