Kingston (Jamaica), Apr 9: President Barack Obama said today that he soon decided whether to remove Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism now that the State Department has finished a review on the question as part of the move to reopen diplomatic relations with the island nation.
Obama's remarks came as he opened a three-day trip to the Caribbean and Central America where he's expected to attend a regional summit with Cuban President Raul Castro. Havana has eagerly sought removal from the list, and Obama for months has signaled he's prepared to take the step once he received a formal recommendation.
Obama, speaking after a meeting with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Kingston, said US agencies are now poring over the State Department's review but that he's yet to receive the actual recommendation. Obama is expected to act quickly to formalize Cuba's removal from the list potentially as soon as later this week when he travels to Panama for the Summit of the Americas.
"Throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts," Obama said. "We want to make sure that given this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations, we've got strong evidence that's the case and as circumstance change, that list will change as well."
Cuba is one of just four countries still on the US list of countries accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism; Iran, Sudan and Syria round out the list. Cuba's continuing presence on the list has been a sticking point in the effort to restore ties between the two countries.
The designation that not only offends Cuba's pride but also restricts Havana's access to credit and financial systems. Obama's comments came on the first full day of his trip to Jamaica and Panama, where Obama is hoping to make inroads in the face of expanding Chinese influence and weakening power by Venezuela, once the energy juggernaut of the Americas.
Obama's arrival on Wednesday evening in Kingston, Jamaica, was low-key compared to the excitement he stirred in the Caribbean upon his election in 2008. Greeted at the airport tarmac by dignitaries including Simpson Miller, Obama slipped into a motorcade that ran through mostly quiet, empty streets.
The visit comes amid a perception that Obama's interest in the region has failed to materialize. Yet his travels first to Jamaica, then to the Summit of the Americas in Panama follow a year of increased attention to the region by the US president.
His immigration executive orders, his efforts to slow the influx of Central American minors to the US border, and his diplomatic outreach to Cuba have put a foreign policy spotlight on US neighbors to the south.