U.S. and Cuban negotiators talked for a full day Thursday before deciding to continue the talks Friday, perhaps an indication the two sides are nearing the finish line on renewing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.
In its Twitter feed, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that advances had been made, and almost a dozen journalists from major media in Cuba were in Washington to cover the talks, another indication that expectations were high.
The Cuban journalists attended the White House daily briefing Thursday, and a reporter from Cuban National Television asked about the possibility of seeing President Obama in Havana before 2016.
“I know that he would relish the opportunity to visit the island of Cuba, and Havana in particular,” said Josh Earnest, White House press secretary.
“I think both presidents are operating against a clock. They want to get this done and the negotiators are working through the issues,” said Julia Sweig, a senior research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.
Delegations led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry’s U.S. division, smiled but didn’t speak with reporters as they settled into the negotiating room.
The talks are part of a shift in Cuba policy outlined by Obama, who said that more than a half century of isolating Cuba wasn’t working and the best way to bring about change on the island was through engagement and support of the Cuban people.
Going into the talks, Cuba said progress on two key issues — the pending removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and getting a bank to handle the accounts for its diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations — had created a favorable atmosphere for progress.
Since March 2014, the missions haven’t had a bank and have had to operate on a money order and cash basis for everything from receiving visa and passport fees to paying bills.
Stonegate Bank, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., confirmed Thursday that it had agreed to begin handling accounts for the Cuban Interests Section and its employees.