President Obama said Thursday that the State Department has made its long-awaited recommendation on whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but he gave no hint of what had been recommended or on when a decision would be made. He said the recommendation was still subject to an inter-agency review.
The recommendation is critical to the Obama administration’s hopes of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, something U.S. executives in Panama for this week’s Summit of the Americas say they hope will also lead soon to the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo, imposed after the two nations severed ties in 1961.
Cuba has made the lifting of the terror designation a key demand in negotiations to re-establish embassies in Havana and Washington.
U.S. authorities put Cuba on the state terror sponsor list in 1982, where it is joined today by Iran, Syria and Sudan. The designation bars U.S. weapons sales and economic assistance and imposes a sweeping range of financial restrictions.
Speaking at the side of Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller in Kingston, where he was on a one-day stop before proceeding to Panama, Obama described the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror as “a powerful tool” to combat nations that sponsor terrorism and should be based on “strong evidence.”
“As circumstances change, then that list will change as well. So I won’t make a formal announcement today about what those recommendations are. I'll wait until I’ve received them,” Obama said.
Obama didn’t say how long the interagency review would take but asserted that efforts to establish diplomatic relations “are proceeding as I expected.”
“I never foresaw that immediately overnight everything would transform itself, that suddenly Cuba became a partner diplomatically with us the way Jamaica is, for example. That’s going to take some time,” he said.
Once Obama makes a decision on the designation, Congress will have a 45-day period to act or let the decision stand. Some conservative lawmakers, particularly Cuban-Americans, suggest that the designation should remain.
A 2013 report by the State Department noted that while Cuba has long provided a haven for Basque terrorists and leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, it had relocated some of the Basques to Spain and was hosting peace talks between the FARC guerrillas and Colombia’s government. Venezuela, Norway and the International Red Cross also support those talks.