U.S. Officially Removes Cuba From State Sponsors of Terrorism List

by Andrea Mitchell and Katie Wall /  / Updated 

The U.S. has formally dropped Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The announcement comes as American and Cuban officials, who met last week in Washington D.C. for a fourth round of talks, hit some speed bumps on an agreement on fully restoring diplomatic ties and opening embassies.

"The rescission of Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement. "While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation."

The Obama administration removed a major obstacle toward normalization of relations between the two countries last month when it recommended to Congress that Cuba be removed from the list of countries the U.S. considers sponsors of terrorism. The highly anticipated move followed a historic meeting between President Barack Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro in Panama at the Summit of the Americas.

Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at the Cuban foreign ministry met to discuss some of the finer details on fully restoring diplomatic ties between the two nations.

But there are still some sticking points before the two sides can agree to re-opening embassies.

Officials must hammer out an agreement on security requirements outside the proposed embassy in Havana. Both countries limit movement.

Cuban diplomats are restricted to a 25 mile radius as well and must ask permission to venture beyond that distance. This applies to both Cuban diplomats in Washington D.C. at the "Interests Section" as well as Cubans stationed at the embassy at the United Nations.

A particular sore point for Castro is an American program in Havana that offers computer courses to Cubans aimed at training them to be journalists. Castro has called the program, which is taught by American journalism professors, "illegal" in a nation where media is state controlled and Cuban officials have said there is no authority under the Vienna Conventions for diplomats to permit this kind of training.

The State Department said the program is fairly standard, but did not rule out possible changes.

Should the two nations strike an agreement, the State Department would give Congress 15 days' notice before re-opening the embassy. Congress cannot block this action since there is precedent for this being the prerogative of the president and no new appropriations are involved.

House Speaker John Boehner said the move "is just the latest example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies."

"The Obama administration has handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing," Boehner said in a statement.

Now that Cuba is off the list there are only three countries remaining: Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Iran is on the list for supporting a number of militant groups including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. Syria is on the list for supporting Hezbollah and similar terrorist groups.

Sudan had allowed terrorist groups to operate within its borders, but the State Department has said it recognizes that nation’s efforts to fight terrorism.

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