WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday will announce it has reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen embassies and restore diplomatic relations severed more than five decades ago, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, in Washington, and Secretary of State John Kerry, in Vienna for Iran nuclear talks, will both address the issue, a senior administration official said. A similar announcement is likely to be made by Cuba’s Communist government.
The formal unveiling of a deal would fulfill a pledge the former Cold War rivals made little more than six months ago when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a historic diplomatic opening. The two leaders met in Panama in April.
Kerry is likely to travel to Havana during the week of July 20 for a flag-raising ceremony to reopen the American embassy. The White House will disclose the exact timing, a U.S. official said.
Both countries can now upgrade their so-called interests sections in Havana and Washington into full-blown embassies, with ambassadors to be appointed later. The State Department must give Congress a 15-day notice before opening an embassy.
“We will formally announce tomorrow that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and open embassies in each other’s capitals,” the senior U.S. official said.
Restoration of relations would be the latest phase in a normalization process, which is expected to move slowly because of lingering problems over issues such as Cuba’s human rights record. A U.S. embargo will remain in place, and only Congress can lift it.
U.S. officials say there is little, if any, chance that hardline anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress would be able to block the restoration of ties or reopening of embassies.
But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican congresswoman from south Florida, said in a statement: ”Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”
The United States and Cuba began secret negotiations on restoring ties in mid-2013, leading to the historic announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, when Obama and Castro said separately and simultaneously that they had swapped prisoners and would seek to normalize relations.
That led to a series of meetings in Havana and Washington about restoring of diplomatic ties, the latest being held May 21-22 at the U.S. State Department.
In one significant sign of the thaw, Cuba recently came off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama had announced on April 14 he would delete Cuba from the list, initiating a 45-day review period for Congress that expired on May 29.
Additional reporting by Dan Trotta in Havana; Editing by Tom Brown