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Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 11:21 UK

US and Cuba hold migration talks

Cubans in a homemade boat moments before being arrested by Cuban military on 4 June 2009
Cubans intercepted at sea are returned under current accords

US and Cuban representatives have met for the first time in six years to discuss migration issues.

The meeting in New York came amid signs from both nations that they are ready to act to improve relations.

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

President Barack Obama has called past US policy on Cuba a failure and recently eased restrictions on visits to the island by Cuban-Americans.

The two sides used the one-day meeting on Monday to reaffirm their commitment to promote "safe, orderly and legal migration", according to statements by the US state department and the Cuban foreign ministry.

Washington proposed in May that the talks, which were suspended six years ago by then President George W Bush, resume.

They concern migration agreements from the mid-1990s that aim to prevent waves of boat people leaving Cuba and risking their lives to reach the US.

"Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance US interests on issues of mutual concern," state department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.

The head of the Cuban delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez, said the meeting had been "fruitful".

The US outlined a number of issues, according to Mr Kelly. These included:

  • gaining access to a deepwater port in Cuba to return migrants safely
  • ensuring that US diplomats can track the welfare of those sent back
  • having all Cuban nationals accepted back, including those who committed crimes in the US and are therefore ineligible to become citizens
  • ensuring that the US Interests Section in Havana can operate "fully and effectively".

Cuba, for its part, repeated its objection to US policy that repatriates Cuban migrants intercepted at sea but allows Cubans who make it to US shores to stay.

Immigration lure

This "wet foot, dry foot" policy "encourages illegal departures and human smuggling", a Cuban statement said.

Cuban-American immigration expert Jose Pertierra says this policy has led not only to people embarking on risky sea journeys across the Florida Straits, but has also stimulated illegal immigration through Mexico.

"Whereas the Mexicans and Central Americans flee [US] border patrol, the Cubans look for the border patrol because Cubans who arrive on dry land are given parole and they get a green card," he told the BBC.

The Obama administration has been pursuing engagement with Cuba and has already authorised travel and money transfers to the island by US nationals of Cuban descent.

President Obama has 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 - once Cuba makes significant moves such as the holding of democratic elections.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
China Post U.S., Cuba resume migration talks after six years - 7 hrs ago
Miami Herald U.S.-Cuba talks end; more likely - 27 hrs ago
Boston Globe U.S., Cuba discuss migration in sign of better ties - 30 hrs ago
Reuters Africa U.S. and Cuba discuss migration - 34 hrs ago
Japan Today U.S., Cuba resume migration talks after 6-year pause - 35 hrs ago



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