US, Cuba Discuss Reopening Embassies

Alex Lee, deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, takes part in a briefing after participating in talks with Cuba, in Havana, Jan. 21, 2015.

The United States and Cuba are holding a second day of talks in Havana aimed at restoring diplomatic relations after more than 50 years.

The reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies in the two nation's capitals will be the main focus of the final day of high-level negotiations between the Cold War-era enemies.

Washington will call on Cuba to lift restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomats sent to the island, as well as travel restrictions on them during their stay.

Senior U.S. officials said they hope Cuba will agree to reopen embassies and appoint ambassadors in each other's capitals in coming months, although no timeline has been established.

"Despite the clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutually shared interests as well as engage in a respectful and thoughtful dialogue," said Alex Lee, deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State.

The two sides held a contentious discussion on immigration, including Washington's long-standing policy of allowing Cubans to stay in the United States once they step foot on American soil, on Wednesday.

Havana said the policy entices Cubans to make the dangerous 144-kilometer-long trip across shark-infested waters.

'Incentive for illegal immigration'

During talks on Wednesday, the Americans vowed to continue to grant safe haven to Cubans with special protections denied to other nationalities.

Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry´s North American affairs division, said the Cuban Adjustment Act, or "wet foot, dry foot," "is a policy that grants exclusive and unique treatment to Cuban citizens, that no other citizens from other nations receive. Therefore, we conclude that this is the fundamental issue that remains as an incentive for illegal immigration."

Thursday's talks will be led by Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and the highest ranking U.S. official to travel to Cuba in more than three decades.

Cuba's negotiating team is being led by Vidal.

The meetings are taking place one month after U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the two countries were prepared to re-establish formal diplomatic relations.

Last month's breakthrough occurred after several months of secret negotiations that also involved the Catholic Church.

The talks led to Havana's release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross after five years behind bars. Last week, Cuba released 53 political prisoners, followed by the Obama administration easing some travel and trade restrictions.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.