Raul Castro again told President Obama that full normalized relations cannot be resumed until the United States lifts the economic embargo on his country and abandons its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, officials said Tuesday.
Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told reporters that the Castro-Obama meeting “took place in a respectful and constructive climate,” and the two leaders agreed to “work on the agenda that both countries will be discussing in the next few months towards the normalization of relations.”
In order for that to happen, however, Castro told Obama that the “embargo that has caused damages and hardships to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens must be lifted and the territory occupied by the US naval base in Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba,” according to Rodríguez Parrilla.
Obama, in his speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly, also called on Congress to lift the decades-long embargo on the former Cold War rival. But the administration opposes abandoning Gitmo, which also serves as a prison for detainees in the war on terrorism.
A White House statement on Tuesday’s meeting did not mention the embargo or Gitmo, saying only that Obama “highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”
Referring to a dispute over human rights under Castro’s government, the White House said that Obama “also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples.”
Obama and Castro, who shook hands for photographers, held their second face-to-face meeting since announcing plans in December to re-establish diplomatic relations.
Thanking other countries for helping in the fight against the Islamic State, Obama said the United States and allies are harnessing a variety of tools that includes military, intelligence, and economic forces.
“Our approach will take time,” Obama said. “This is not an easy task.”
One reason: The fight against the Islamic State is “not a conventional battle,” Obama said, but rather “a long-term campaign not only against this particular network but against their ideology.”
Before leaving New York City for the return trip to Washington, Obama also met President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.
Since the United States and Cuba made their announcement last year, the two countries re-opened embassies in each other capital cities and eased travel restrictions. Differences remain, however, including U.S. protests of Cuba’s human rights record and detention of political prisoners.
Cuba has long sought an end to the embargo and the U.S. presence at Gitmo, points that Castro also made when he met with Obama in April during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The demands take on heightened scrutiny in the wake of the emerging new relationship between the United States and Cuba.
In a Monday speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Castro cited the embargo and Guantanamo Bay as obstacles to full normalized relations.
In his address to U.N. delegates on Monday, Obama said the United States will continue to “stand up for human rights” in Cuba, but will address those issues “through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties” with the former Cold War rival.
Given progress, “I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore,” Obama said. “Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve.”