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US Expects January Talks With Cuba

A man drives his car holding a poster with pictures of the Cuban Five, celebrating their freedom, in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 17, 2014.

A U.S. State Department official said a January meeting that had been previously scheduled with Cuban officials in Havana is being expanded and moved to a higher level of diplomacy.

Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson announced the change in a Thursday briefing as she shed more light on the process for restoring relations with Cuba.

Jacobson said she will travel to Havana for the talks, which she expects will take place in late January.

She said a meeting that was originally a periodic review of Cuba-U.S. migration will now include talks on restoring diplomatic relations.

“That process is relatively straightforward, frankly, from a legal perspective,” Jacobson added.

She said the first step in the process has already occurred - the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to begin the work of restoring ties.

“We can do that via an exchange of letters or of notes. It doesn’t require a formal sort of legal treaty or agreement,” Jacobson said.

She said U.S. diplomats in Cuba would transition from being under Swiss protection.

“It requires us also terminating the 53-year-old agreement that we have had with the Swiss government as our protecting power and the same for the Cubans,” she said.

Also, the U.S. will begin a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“We have to review the record of Cuba...and ensure they have not been participants or supported acts of terrorism over the last six months," Jacobson said. "We have to look at whether they have renounced the use of terrorism.”

Jacobson also addressed the objections to restoring ties with Cuba that have been raised by some members of Congress, who have threatened to block funding for an embassy.

“The status of our diplomatic relationship in terms from going from not having diplomatic relations to having full diplomatic relations, we believe, is entirely constitutionally the president’s right and responsibility, “ she said.

Jacobson, however, added that the issue of funding belongs to Congress and what she described as the “power of the purse.”