HAVANA — The United States and Cuba have agreed to resume bilateral talks on migration issues next month, a State Department official said Wednesday, the latest evidence of a thaw in chilly relations between the Cold War enemies.
Havana and Washington just wrapped up a round of separate negotiations aimed at restarting direct mail service, which has been suspended since 1963. Both sets of talks have been on hold in recent years in a dispute over the fate of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Havana after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally.
The migration talks will be held in Washington on July 17. The State Department official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publically, spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Representatives from the Department of State are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Cuban government to discuss migration issues," the official said, adding that the talks were "consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and respect for human rights in Cuba."
Word of the jump-started talks sparked an angry reaction from Cuban-American Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who blasted the Obama administration for what she saw as a policy of appeasement.
"First we get news that the Obama State Department is speaking with a top Castro regime diplomat. Then comes the announcement that the administration is restarting talks with the dictatorship regarding direct mail between both countries," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Now we hear that migration talks will be restarted. It's concession after concession from the Obama administration."
Since taking office, Obama has relaxed travel and remittance rules for Cuban Americans and made it far easier for others to visit the island for cultural, educational and religious reasons.