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Cuba accepts US migration talks

Emotional reunions at Havana airport
Obama eased restrictions on visits to Cuba in March

Cuba has agreed to resume talks with Washington on immigration by Cubans to the US, the state department says.

A top US official said Cuba had sent a diplomatic note accepting a recent US invitation to restart the talks.

The official said Cuba was also ready to cooperate with the US on direct mail services, as well as fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, reports said.

The talks were halted in 2003 after Havana refused to give exit permits to people who had been granted US visas.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the Cuban response during a visit to El Salvador where she will attend the inauguration of Mauricio Funes as president on Monday.

"At the same time we will continue to press the Cuban government to protect basic rights, release political prisoners and move toward democratic reform," Mrs Clinton said.

She is due to move on to Honduras for a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Tuesday, where Cuba's possible readmission is expected to be discussed.

By then, the US will be the only country in the Americas without full diplomatic relations with the Communist island.

El Salvador, the only other OAS state without such ties, plans to restore them when President-elect Funes takes office.

'No preconditions'

In March, President Barack Obama eased restrictions on visits to the Communist island by Cuban-Americans and allowed them to send money home more easily.

Curbs on sending medicines and food were also eased.

The legislation overturned rules imposed by the Bush administration, which had limited travel to just two weeks every three years and had confined visits to immediate family members.

Mr Obama had recently indicated he would be open to dialogue with Cuba's leaders.

But he has said that, like previous American presidents, he will only consider a full lifting of the embargo - in place since 1962 - if Cuba makes significant moves such as the holding of democratic elections.

Cuba's President Raul Castro has said he is prepared to negotiate with the new US administration, providing there are no preconditions.

The BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana, says the US demands on democracy and human rights before ending the trade embargo or admitting Cuba to the OAS place Washington at odds with almost all the other countries in the Americas.

He says Mrs Clinton is likely to face pressure from many OAS members to drop such demands - making them a goal rather than a precondition for normalising relations.



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