- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Sen.-elect Thom Tillis said Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s decision to make sweeping changes to American and Cuban relations now is a bad idea and should have come only after more Cuban government and human rights reforms.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the outgoing Republican state House speaker said the U.S. government should have held firm on current policy instead of Obama announcing a move toward restoring diplomatic relations after a half-century of separation.

“We were within reach of seeing maybe a regime change and improvements in a movement from dictatorship to democracy,” Tillis said, adding “we should have stayed the course and expected normalization of relationships with Cuba to come with real reforms.”

Tillis also mentioned the reaction of other Republican senators and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in discussing his own views. He said he doubts that Senate GOP leadership will support legislative actions needed to truly normalize relations. That would include the end of an economic embargo that Congress first passed.

The embargo was designed to encourage the Cuban government to move toward democratic institutions and show greater respect for its population, according to Tillis. “It doesn’t make sense to reward them for their inaction,” he said.



But the president’s effort to re-establish ties could be harder for Congress to undo, particularly with his plans to ease travel restrictions and increase financial transactions between the countries.

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr said he was pleased with Cuba’s release of government contract worker Alan Gross and a Cuban spy who had spent nearly 20 years in prison after working for the United States.

“I continue to worry about human rights violations taking place in Cuba, including Cuba’s treatment of political prisoners, and am wary of the implications of the president’s action,” Burr said in a release, adding he would listen closely to Senate Foreign Affairs Committee leaders about any next steps.

Tillis takes office in early January, two months after defeating incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan by less than 2 percentage points. He’s announced most of his key staff and knows his expected committee assignments. In the new Republican majority, Burr is likely to become chairman of the intelligence committee.

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