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US, Cuba announce historic thaw in ties

Update: December, 19/2014 - 08:24
Cuban students march in a Havana street on Wednesday, after Washington released three Cubans who had been in a US prison since 2001. The US and Cuba brought their bitter Cold War stand-off towards a historic close on Wednesday, agreeing to revive diplomatic ties and to ease a five-decade US trade embargo. — AFP/VNA Photo
WASHINGTON (VNS) — The United States and Cuba have moved to end five decades of Cold

Viet Nam welcomes ties, restoration plan

HA NOI — Viet Nam applauded Cuban President Raul Castro and his US counterpart Barack Obama for their statements on restoring diplomatic ties, Foreign Ministry's deputy spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said yesterday.

"Viet Nam believes that the historic announcements are the first step towards the full normalisation of bilateral diplomatic relations, which would bring legitimate interests for both Cuban and American people and contribute to maintaining peace and stability and intensifying co-operation in the US and the world," Hang said. — VNS

War hostility, agreeing to revive diplomatic ties in a surprise breakthrough that would also ease a crippling US trade embargo.

In the wake of a prisoner exchange, President Barack Obama on Wednesday said Washington was ready for a "new chapter" in relations with Cuba and would re-establish its embassy in Havana.

"We are all Americans," Obama declared, breaking into Spanish for a speech that the White House portrayed as a bid to reassert US leadership in the Western Hemisphere.

For his part, Cuba's President Raul Castro, speaking at the same time in Havana, confirmed that the former enemies had "agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties" after a half century of rancor.

"President Obama's decision deserves the respect and acknowledgement of our people," Castro said, while warning that the embargo – which he calls a "blockade" – must still be lifted.

Obama admitted the US trade ban had failed and said he would urge Congress to lift it, while using his presidential authority to advance diplomatic and travel links.

He later raised the hitherto unthinkable prospect of a US president embarking on a visit to Cuba, saying nothing was ruled out. "I don't have any current plans, but let's see how things evolve," Obama told ABC's World News Tonight in an exclusive interview.

His chief diplomat, John Kerry, also said: "I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba."

Around the world

Plaudits for the significant policy shift poured in from all corners of the globe.

The European Union, which is also moving to normalise ties with Cuba, hailed the breakthrough as a "historical turning point".

Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz spoke for those in Latin America, declaring: "This is the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas."

The Vatican said the pope warmly congratulated both governments for overcoming "the difficulties which have marked their recent history".

Canada was also praised for hosting secret talks between the sides.

The surprise breakthrough came after Havana released jailed US contractor Alan Gross and a Cuban who spied for Washington and had been held for 20 years – one of the most important US agents in Cuba. The US in turn freed three Cuban spies, and Obama said he had instructed the US State Department to re-examine its designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The US imposed a trade embargo against Cuba in 1960 and the two countries have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961.

In Latin America, leaders said the move and the US-Cuban prisoner swap would further ease an ideological battle that has divided the Americas for decades.

Venezuela's socialist government was quick to praise Obama.

"We have to recognise President Obama's bold and historic gesture. He has taken perhaps the most important step of his presidency," said President Nicolas Maduro.

Two of those presidents, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez, said their generation of "fighters for social justice" had thought they would never see diplomatic relations restored between Cuba and the US.

And Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organisation of American States, said Obama's decision removed a major irritant in Washington's relations with Latin America.

Back to Washington, senior Democratic lawmaker Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, hailed the move as creating a "force for positive change in Cuba".

But Republicans quickly denounced the deal, in a foretaste of the resistance that Obama will face as he tries to persuade Congress to back a full end to the embargo. — AFP

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