Page 2 of 2   <      

U.S., Cuba Held Unannounced, High-Level Talks

The Americans have also made other small but significant gestures - like turning off an electronic sign that had streamed anti-Castro messages from the windows of the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy. The Cubans then took down dozens of large black flags they had set up nearby to block the view.

Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel, have both had warm words for the American leader, with Fidel Castro last week praising Obama as courageous for taking on climate change.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Monday in a speech at the United Nations that the communist government is ready to normalize relations with its larger neighbor and will work with Washington in the meantime on other issues such as fighting drug smuggling.

He said Cuba has sought full diplomatic relations with the U.S. for decades and repeated Raul Castro's offer to sit down with Obama for a "respectful, arm's length dialogue with the United States, without overshadowing our independence, sovereignty and self-determination."

Cuba experts say it remains to be seen whether the diplomacy of small measures is a path to ultimately reaching agreement on core issues, though diplomats on both sides have privately voiced optimism.

Obama has left intact the 47-year trade embargo on the island, and U.S. officials have said for months that they would like to see the single-party state accept some political, economic and social changes.

---

Associated Press writer Paul Haven reported from Havana, Cuba.


<       2


© 2009 The Associated Press