- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sens. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, and Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, wrote a letter signed by a handful of other GOP senators to President Obama offering general support for expanding trade with and travel to the communist island country, as recently outlined by the president.

“With the significance of your recent announcements related to Cuba, we look forward to Congress turning its attention toward modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy to the benefit of U.S.citizens and the Cuban people alike,” the senators wrote in a letter dated Jan. 28. “Congress must play an integral role in reforming our policy toward Cuba.”

The letter was also signed by GOP Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, John Boozman of Arkansas and Susan Collins of Maine.

“Our hope is that changes to the current trade and travel relationship will advance our goal of bolstering the vulnerable private sector and increasing entrepreneurship while decreasing the role of state-controlled enterprises,” the senators wrote.

Comments from Cuban President Raul Castro this week, though, indicate the two countries are still far apart on restoring diplomatic ties. Mr. Castro outlined preconditions for fully normalizing relations between the two countries that included lifting the U.S. embargo on the country, returning the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to Cuba, and providing compensation for “human and economic damage” suffered by Cubans from U.S. policies.

Mr. Obama’s announcement last month that he was restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba and moving to ease trade and travel restrictions had already been met with staunch opposition by many Republicans on Capitol Hill, notably Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban immigrants and a possible rival of Mr. Paul in the 2016 presidential race.

Mr. Rubio, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, who is also Cuban-American, and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, recently wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., pressing Mr. Holder on the administration’s policy for U.S. fugitives in the country in light of the president’s recent announcement.

Mr. Cruz has also been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

A separate bipartisan group of senators that included Mr. Flake and Mr. Boozman also announced the introduction of legislation on Thursday that would end restrictions on travel to Cuba imposed on U.S. citizens.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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