* U.S. negotiators call talks "fruitful"
* Focus on pilot project for mail delivery
* Tour of Cuban mail facilities for U.S. delegation
(Recasts, adds statements, U.S. to tour mail facilities on
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Sept 16 The United States and Cuba
concluded on Monday their second round of talks aimed at
re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries
after a 50-year ban, but left for later the most sensitive issue
- Cuban planes landing on U.S. soil.
The Cuban Foreign Ministry said both sides had agreed to
continue the talks in the near future and that it had
emphasized, "working out the transportation of mail by regular
direct routes in both directions," was key to their successful
The State Department said something very similar in a
statement: "The goal of the talks is for the United States and
Cuba to work out the details for a pilot program to directly
transport mail between the two countries."
Cuba said talks between the postal services of the two
countries took place "in a respectful manner," and the U.S.
Interests Section said U.S. officials "described the discussions
The U.S. delegation, led by U.S. postal service executive
director for international postal services, Lea Emerson, was to
tour Cuban mail facilities on Tuesday, the U.S. Interests
The two countries do not have diplomatic relations, but
maintain lower-level missions in each other's capitals.
Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba has
been suspended since 1963. Despite the ban, letters and other
mail still flow between the United States and the island nation
90 miles away through other countries, such as Canada, Mexico
Relations between the two countries have been frozen since
soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, and
Washington has maintained economic sanctions on Cuba for more
than half a century.
Monday's talks took place amid a few signs the Obama
administration and President Raul Castro have not completely
given up on some improvement in the two countries' hostile
Former British ambassador to Cuba, Paul Webster Hare, who
lectures on international relations at Boston University, said
Cuba's decision not to allow fugitive former U.S. intelligence
analyst Edward Snowden to fly from Russia to Cuba on the way to
exile in Latin America, was significant.
"The Cubans recognized that for any prospect of better
relations they needed to avoid more long-term irritants," he
ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN
Obama restarted immigration and postal talks with Cuba in
2009, both were suspended by the Bush administration in 2004.
The separate talks were also seen at the time as a sign of
further thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations under Obama, who had
earlier relaxed restrictions on remittances and travel to the
island for Cuban Americans.
Both the postal talks and immigration talks were suspended
again soon after the arrest in December 2009 of U.S. contractor
Alan Gross, sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for his role in
setting up an underground Internet network in the Communist-run
Cuba has hinted at a possible swap of Gross for four Cuban
agents arrested 15 years ago and still being held in the United
States on espionage convictions.
Cuba allowed a U.S. doctor to visit Gross in August,
something it had refused to do in the past.
A significant improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations must
include the release of Gross and the Cuban agents, according to
some analysts, while others said progress on secondary issues
could lead to more significant change.
"Their release may ultimately come from a process of
improving relations between Cuba and the U.S., where both
nations engage in a progressive tit for tat," said Carlos
Saladrigas, a Cuban American businessman who advocates
engagement with Havana and heads the Cuba Study Group.
"Politically it is easier to conceive of their release as a
consequence of a process than as the trigger," he said.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Andrew Hay
and Jackie Frank)