US, Cuba in first finance and trade talks

US, Cuba in first finance and trade talks

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — United States and Cuban officials held talks in Washington on bilateral economic issues Monday for the first time since the countries resumed normal diplomatic ties, diplomats said.

Just over a year since the Cold War foes put aside five decades of bad blood to seek normal relations, they focused ongoing discussions on thorny banking and trade issues.

Although the talks had a wide-ranging agenda, not much can be pushed forward substantively with a US economic embargo still in place.

Only the US Congress can lift the sanctions.

Still, the officials created working groups on different issues, including one on human rights in the Americas' only communist-run one-party state, the State Department said.

But Cuba's foreign ministry underscored that progress on rapprochement would require an end to the US sanctions that have been clamped on Havana for decades.

The two sides restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

However, Washington still bans Americans from visiting Cuba as tourists, although travel is permitted for 12 other categories, including cultural and educational exchange.

Washington and Havana agreed in February to restore direct commercial flights — one of several watershed changes initiated in December 2014, when US President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro announced a thaw after more than 50 years of hostility.

The first regular commercial flight between the two countries in more than 50 years flew just last week on a US carrier.

Regular air service between the neighbours was severed during the Cold War, and charter flights had been the only air links since.

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