Washington removes Cuba from US list of state sponsors of terrorism
The Obama administration has formally removed Cuba from the U.S. terrorism blacklist Friday, a decision hailed in Cuba as the healing of a decades-old wound and an important step toward normalizing relations between the Cold War foes.
Secretary of State John Kerry signed off on rescinding Cuba's "state sponsor of terrorism"
"While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation," the statement said.
The step comes as officials from the two countries continue to hash out details for restoring full diplomatic relations, including opening embassies in Washington and Havana and returning ambassadors to the two countries for the first time since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with the island in January 1961. The removal of Cuba from the terrorism list had been a key Cuban demand.
The Cold War-era designation was levied mainly for Cuba's support of leftist guerrillas around the world and isolated the communist island from much of the world financial system because banks fear repercussions from doing business with designated countries. Even Cuba's Interests Section in Washington lost its bank in the United States, forcing it to deal in cash until it found a new banker this month.
In a blog post, the White House called the decision on the terrorism list another step toward improving relations with Cuba.
The terrorism list was a particularly charged issue for Cuba because of the U.S. history of supporting exile groups responsible for attacks on the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger flight from Barbados that killed 73 people aboard. The attack was linked to Cuban exiles with ties to U.S.-backed anti-Castro groups and both men accused of masterminding the crime took shelter in Florida, where one, Luis Posada Carriles, currently lives.
Top U.S. Republicans criticized the move, with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio saying the Obama administration had "handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing."
Both the U.S. and Cuba say reopening embassies would be a first step in a larger process of normalizing relations. That effort would still have to tackle bigger questions such as the trade embargo as well as the future of the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba's democracy record.