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  • United States Assistant Secretary

    United States Assistant Secretary's of State Tomasz Malinowski and Roberta Jacobson (R) testify at the a U.S. Congress on the Obama administration's changes to Cuba policy in Washington February 3, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

State Department official declares that restoring diplomatic relations is not changing the government or the political and economic system on the island.

Appearing before the U.S. House of Representative Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday, Roberta Jacobson defended the decision of the Obama administration to work to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, is the official leading negotiations with the Cuban government. She faced a hostile committee featuring Cuban-Americans who have historically been vehemently opposed to the government in Havana. Some of the U.S. lawmakers participating in the committee, such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have come out strongly in favor of regime change in Havana.

Cuban President Raul Castro has said that Cuba's sovereignty and political system must be respected. A point reiterated by Jacobson, who told the committee, “This policy is not based on the Castro regime changing.”

U.S. legislators grilled Jacobson for having been left out of the secret 18 month negotiations that led up to the announcement, made simultaneously by Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, that the two countries would begin working to restore diplomatic relations.

"I might have been more favorably impressed by the policy if it hadn't been such a complete shock and if Congress had been involved," said Democratic Representative Brad Sherman of California.

Jacobson also repeated the assertion that the U.S. is not willing to the return of control of Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban people. The issue of Guantanamo is not on the table in these conversations," said Jacobson.

She also said there were no plans to shut down the U.S. government-funded Radio and TV Marti, which broadcast anti-government propaganda into Cuba.

President Raul Castro however stated that the closure of the U.S. base at Guantanamo is a prerequisite for a full normalization of ties between Washington and Havana.

While both the Cuban and U.S. government are committed to restoring diplomatic relations, the issue of Guantanamo and U.S. propaganda outlets may prove to be contentious issues at the negotiation table.

More bilateral talks are scheduled later this month.

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