- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA (AP) - The only two Central American countries that don’t recognize Cuba’s government say they plan to re-establish diplomatic ties with the communist nation.

Costa Rica said Wednesday it will re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba, and El Salvador’s new president-elect, Mauricio Funes, promised to do the same after he takes office.

Costa Rica broke off ties with Havana in 1961, while El Salvador has not recognized the island’s government since 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power.

On Sunday, Funes became the first leftist president elected in El Salvador since the country’s brutal civil war ended in 1992. His party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, formed from five rebel armies in 1980, is the second former enemy of the United States along with Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to take power democratically in Latin America’s lurch to the left.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon brushed off a question about Cuba after he met with Funes on Wednesday, and said the U.S. was a partner willing to work with the new leader.

“In diplomacy, as in life, the honeymoon isn’t the important thing. What’s important is the marriage,” Shannon said.

“We are going to make sure this marriage is healthy and working. … We are going to establish a dialogue in a spirit of cooperation and the recognition that El Salvador is a sovereign country,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, President Barack Obama telephoned Funes to congratulate him and the people of El Salvador for their commitment to democratic elections.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said his country recognizes many governments that are politically different from his own, including China. Cuba should be treated the same, he argued.

“I’m taking this step convinced that times change and Costa Rica must change, too,” he said, adding that Costa Rica and Cuba would both name ambassadors soon.

While Costa Rican media have speculated this week that the country could be taking steps to reunite with Cuba, Arias’ announcement was largely a surprise.

It appeared to be coincidental that the decision was made public on the same day that Funes reiterated his campaign pledge to re-establish relations with Havana.

Funes said he will make his decision official after he takes office June 1. He also said he wants to strengthen trade with the island.

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