President Barack Obama is nixing Cuba from the list of countries the U.S. considers sponsors of terrorism, according to the White House.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president has submitted to Congress all of the necessary reports and certifications, indicating the president's plans to remove Cuba from the list of terrorism sponsoring countries that also includes Syria, Sudan and Iran. Cuba was put on the list in 1982.
The highly anticipated move follows a historic meeting between Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro in Panama at the Summit of the Americas over the weekend. Just before that meeting, the State Department recommended to Obama that Cuba be taken off the list.
It's another major development in the U.S. relationship with Cuba since the president announced last December plans to restore full relations with Cuba and high-level talks began to open an embassy in Havana. The evolving shift away from Cold War policies that governed the U.S.-Cuba relationship has led to other changes that could be accomplished without approval from Congress.
"Circumstances have changed since when Cuba was originally designated as a state sponsor of terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
"Our determination, pursuant to the facts, including corroborative assurances received from the government of Cuba and the statutory standard, is that the time has come to rescind Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The law required Obama to make his report to Congress at least 45 days before removing Cuba from the list and to provide a report justifying its removal and certifying Cuba has not provided international terrorism support in the previous six month. Also, Cuba had to provide assurances it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future, according to the White House.
Congress does not have to approve the decision.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised Obama's decision as a step forward in relations with Cuba.
"Taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terror list removes an outdated designation that no longer serves the security interests of the United States, nor the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people," she said in a statement.
Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, said removing Cuba from the list lifts a barrier to change in U.S.-Cuba relations. But he warned that the practical effect of the action shouldn't be overstated. Congress should go further and end travel and trade restrictions contained in U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, he said.
"Most of the sanctions associated with the state sponsors of terrorism designation are codified in our embargo laws, which continue to represent the most significant external obstacle for the Cuban people to fully benefit from the opportunities presented by access to the U.S. private sector," Herrero said.
But the decision also drew a harsh rebuke from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican who was born in U.S. but is of Cuban descent and whose aunt was the first wife of Fidel Castro. He said Obama jeopardized U.S. national security "by choosing to absolve the Castro dictatorship of its dangerous anti-American terrorist activities across the globe."
"Once again, President Obama has demonstrated that his eagerness to capitulate to dictators has no bounds," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
"Fortunately, most sanctions against the Castro regime are codified in U.S. law and can only be lifted by the U.S. Congress, when free, fair elections are scheduled, independent labor unions, political parties and the press are legalized and all political prisoners are freed," he said.