Barack Obama says he plans to remove Cuba from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, as he seeks to restore diplomatic relations after a decades-long freeze.
President Obama met his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama on Saturday – the first meeting between US and Cuban leaders in nearly 60 years.
Cuba’s communist government had said normal relations between the two former cold war enemies would be impossible if it remained on the list, which includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.
The meeting followed an announcement in December that the US and Cuba were hoping to normalise relations.
The Caribbean island nation was placed on the list in 1982 when it was aiding rebel movements in Africa and Latin America, but Havana gave up supporting foreign insurgencies years ago. Its inclusion on the list continued to limit its access to international banking and overseas financial markets.
“The Cuban government recognises the fair decision made by the president of the United States to eliminate Cuba from a list that it never should have been included on,” Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry’s chief of US affairs, said in a statement.
In a report to Congress, President Obama said the government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period,” and “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future”.
Congress has 45 days to consider the president’s decision before it takes effect, but it cannot stop it unless both chambers approve a joint resolution, a move that is highly unlikely. But a broader US embargo on Cuba will remain in place because only Congress can end it.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American and newly announced Republican presidential candidate, denounced it as a “terrible” decision, saying Cuba was helping North Korea evade sanctions and harbouring fugitives from American justice.
Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, another Cuban-American, accused President Obama of “capitulating to dictators”.