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Mr. Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba in 1956, asked whether Mr. Santos was issuing a serious request or just trying to appease Cuba, which is hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and communist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC).

“The people of Cuba live under conditions that neither President Santos nor anybody in Colombia would accept for their own people,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Whitaker declined to speculate on Mr. Santos’ motives. But the career diplomat noted that he is well aware of “Cuba, its government and the abuses committed by it.”

He served as director of the State Department office on Cuban affairs from 2002 to 2005.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at or @EmbassyRow.