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article imageSenior U.S. Diplomat in High-Level Talks with Cuban Government

By Chris Dade     Sep 29, 2009 in Politics
The State Department has confirmed that a senior U.S. diplomat met with Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez in the island's capital Havana during a six-day visit earlier in September
According to CNN the main purpose of the visit to Cuba by Bisa Williams, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, was to discuss the restoration of direct mail services between Cuba and the U.S., services which the Associated Press confirms have been suspended since 1963.
It appears that, following the talks regarding the mail services, Ms Williams then remained in Cuba for a further five days. But details of that extended stay have only just been made public.
During those five extra days Ms Williams visited Pinar del Rio, an area of Western Cuba affected by a hurricane in 2008, was shown round a government agricultural facility, and, more significantly, met with Cuban officials and members of the country's civil service to discuss a range of issues, amongst them migration.
Whilst no progress on any of the matters discussed has been announced the mere fact that talks took place, the talks were described as "respectful" by one U.S. official, is highly significant. However further talks regarding the issue of migration are planned for December, with Havana being the venue.
Since he assumed the U.S. presidency in January Barack Obama has signaled that he would like to improve relations with Cuba, a nation whose siting of nuclear missiles, supplied by the Soviet Union, on its own soil nearly led to a nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR in 1962.
One step already taken by President Obama to improve those relations is the relaxation of financial and travel restrictions on Americans who have family in Cuba.
Another goodwill gesture was the switching off of the electronic sign which displayed anti-Castro messages in the windows of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana - there is no U.S. embassy in the Cuban capital. The Cubans responded to that gesture by removing the numerous large black flags they had raised to keep the messages from public view.
Despite the words of praise for President Obama from Cuban leaders such as former President Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro, the U.S. has kept in place a 47-year trade embargo and U.S. officials have indicated that they would like to see political and economic reforms in Cuba.
It was in 2002 that talks between a senior American official and Cuban officials last took place. Although Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the U.N. on Monday that Cuba has wanted full diplomatic relations with the U.S. for many years.
The same U.S. official who described the recent talks as "respectful" also said:We were going over ground we haven't gone over for a long time. Each side was taking advantage of the opportunity to size each other up
Whether both sides truly liked what they saw and heard may become obvious in due course.
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