A review of the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring countries that puts Cuba in company with Iran, Syria and Sudan is completed, President Barack Obama said hours before he was to head to Panama for a gathering of Western Hemisphere countries.
"It is now forwarded to the White House. Our interagency will go through the entire thing with a recommendation. That hasn't happened yet," Obama said from Jamaica where he was meeting with Carribean leaders.
There has been much anticipation of the upcoming Summit of the Americas where Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro are expected to have some interaction as a signal of the countries' evolving relationship that has for half a century been governed by Cold War policies. Castro is making his first appearance at the 35-country summit that the U.S. kept Cuba from attending.
There also has been expectation that Obama would use the forum for a major announcement on Cuba. Agreements to create embassies in respective countries remain in the works, but work has moved ahead on the terrorism sponsor list.
Obama said the list is a powerful tool for terrorism sponsoring countries, but he said the U.S. wants to be sure that "as circumstances change, that list will change as well."
Sources told NBC News earlier Thursday that Obama was expected to announce his acceptance of a recommendation from the State Department to take Cuba off the State Sponsors of Terror list. Obama said he would not make an announcement today.
Cuba has insisted on the removal as part of the ongoing work to change its relationship with the U.S. The administration has previously said that U.S. policies on Cuba have been a obstacle in working with other Latin American countries.
In response to written questions from EFE news service, Obama said the effort to reform Cuba policies has been welcomed in the region, but he said the relationship with Latin America is already "the best it's been in many decades."
"We are inextricably linked by ties of family, commerce, culture, shared values and our aspirations for the future," Obama said, according to a copy of the questions and answered distributed by the White House. "We're bound by tens of millions of Hispanic-Americans, the fastest-growing group in America that will only become more influential in the decades ahead."
Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, at the summit, the highest-level official meeting between the U.S. and Cuba in more than half a century.
On another issue Obama is sure to confront at the summit, Venezuela, Obama said the U.S. has backed efforts by other Latin American countries to resolve political problems in the country. "This does not mean that we, or any other member of the inter-American community, should remain silent about our concerns regarding the situation in Venezuela," he said.
Earlier in the week, some U.S. Latino groups and college and university officials signed a letter to Obama questioning the Venezuela sanctions and asking why his administration is opening relations with Cuba while isolating Venezuela.
"In Venezuela, during protests in February and March of 2014, 43 people from both sides of the political spectrum died. In Mexico, 43 normal school students were disappeared by government forces," reads the letter. "Why should on incident serve as a precedent to impose sanctions while the other is overlooked?"