U.S. President Barack Obama told Congress on Tuesday that he intends to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism list, paving the way for the restoration of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies that were shut down over 50 years ago.
Congress now has 45 days to debate the issue and if they so agree, they can block Cuba’s removal from the list, but Obama would more than likely veto their decision.
In a brief statement, the White House said it no longer considers Havana a state sponsor of terrorism.
“The government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and ... the government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future,” the statement reads.
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White House press secretary Josh Earnest commented that Obama's decision is in line with U.S. “interests and values.”
“We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” he said.
Leading up to the announcement, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement on Monday arguing the Department of State's recent decision to advise Obama to remove Cuba from the list was part of a broader thawing in bilateral ties.
"The State Department's recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, the result of a months-long technical review, is an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba," said Senator Cardin.
Cuba has long argued it should never have been placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism more than three decades ago. Havana's removal from the list has been one of the Cuban government's key demands in negotiations with the United States over the normalization of relations.
The decision to remove Cuba from the terror list came after a meeting between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama over the weekend, the first meeting between heads of state of the two countries in over 50 years.
The event was also the first time a Cuban head of state attended the Summit of the Americas, after Latin American leaders lobbied for Havana's inclusion in the high level talks in recent years.