US and Cuba Seek to Normalize Relations; US to Ease Certain Restrictions

December 18, 2014

President Obama announced on December 17, 2014 that the United States and Cuba will open talks seeking to restore full diplomatic relations, and that the United States will be taking a number of steps to ease restrictions in certain areas of trade with Cuba described in more detail below. The announcement comes after 18 months of secret talks between the United States and Cuba hosted by Canada and facilitated by Pope Francis.

The announcement was made possible after Cuba released Alan Gross, an American contractor held in a Cuban prison for the past five years. Mr. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence for bringing Internet services to Cuba. Cuba and the United States also agreed to swap spies held in respective prisons, including an American who has been held in a Cuban prison for two decades.

In a televised statement on December 17, President Obama announced his intention to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years and (re-)open a U.S. embassy in Havana. The President described plans to increase cooperation with Cuba on health, security, countering narcotrafficking and terrorism and has instructed Secretary of State Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

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