An increase in Americans hopping flights to Cuba could happen as soon as this year — but that all depends on whether the U.S. will ease travel restrictions there, Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs told MSNBC in an exclusive interview Friday.
"It seems that it can take place this year," Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's North American affairs office, told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. "Still, unfortunately, not all Americans are free to come to Cuba because it’s still limited by U.S. law."
Cuba and the United States began landmark talks this week in Havana to re-establish diplomatic ties — the first diplomatic meeting after nearly four decades of Cold War-era hostilities. President Barack Obama first announced in December that a deal between the estranged countries was reached to eventually lift trade embargoes — provided negotiations are hammered out. That includes the proposal to open up commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba. American tourism to the communist island has been banned because of the embargo except for people falling under certain criteria.
The diplomatic talks are also centering on the creation of respective embassies in Washington, D.C., and Havana. Vidal said that before the U.S. can open an embassy in her nation's capital, Cuba's diplomats must have access to American banking services.
Earlier Friday, Roberta Jacobson, the head American diplomat negotiating in Havana, met with Cuban dissidents to hear their thoughts about U.S. policies. Jacobson told NBC that the meeting was "wonderful." She added that the U.S. has "no illusions" that the Cuban government would change its communist policies once trade reopens.
Vidal said that the pathway to re-establishing ties remains ongoing, but is confident that "one day we can say that relations between Cuba and the United States are normal."
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