- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

The United States and Cuba have agreed to resume direct talks on migration, last held in 2003, and open discussions on establishing direct mail service between the two countries, a U.S. official said Sunday.

Cuba presented a diplomatic note to U.S. officials on Saturday agreeing to a U.S. request made last week to resume the migration talks, which President George W. Bush suspended.

It was a clear sign of movement in President Obama’s effort to establish a more cooperative relationship with Cuba, a former Cold War enemy.

The communist nation also presented a note agreeing to a U.S. request for talks about direct mail service, which has been suspended for decades.

“The two notes are a very positive step forward,” the U.S. official said. “Our goal has always been safe, orderly migration out of Cuba. … It’s in our interest to resume these talks.”

The official said the Cubans also indicated an interest in holding talks on counternarcotics, counterterrorism and hurricane disaster responses - areas in which the two countries have had sporadic cooperation in the decades since the U.S. broke off diplomatic ties and imposed an embargo.

The word came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a three-day trip to Latin America that will include a meeting of the Organization of American States, where a majority of Latin American members are expected to support Cuba’s re-entry to the hemispheric group.

The OAS suspended Cuba in 1962 after Fidel Castro’s revolution steered the island toward communism and a close alliance with the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Clinton told Congress recently that the United States would not support Cuba’s re-entry to the OAS until it could embrace the democratic principles outlined in the group’s charter.

In a move to improve ties with Cuba, Mr. Obama lifted restrictions two months ago on travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island.

But Mr. Obama also has emphasized the need for Cuba to engage in democratic reforms before additional steps can be taken to ease or end the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba.

“This is a clear signal that we’re serious in following up the president’s direction and we’re intent on starting up a new relationship,” the U.S. official said. “The idea is to identify areas of cooperation that would be mutually beneficial.”

The official spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted for attribution.

No date or place has been set for the talks.

The United States hopes the migration talks could decrease the chances of a mass exodus of Cubans like the flood of refugees who left in 1980 and again in 1994.

A 1995 migration accord sought to put an end to mass sea-borne migration. It established the repatriation to Cuba by U.S. authorities of Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, and Havana also pledged to halt illegal migration bids.

Under that accord, the United States agreed to foster legal migration by granting at least 20,000 U.S. visas to Cubans each year.

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