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US, Cuba to start talks on human rights next Tuesday in Washington

HAVANA, Cuba — The United States and Cuba will hold talks on human rights, one of the most delicate issues pending in their historic rapprochement, on Tuesday in Washington, Havana said.

The “bilateral dialogue on human rights…demonstrates Cuba’s readiness to address any issue despite our differences,” the deputy director of the Cuban foreign ministry, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, told journalists Thursday.

The communist island nation had proposed the meeting, he said.

Cuba, he said, “hopes this dialogue will unfold in a constructive tone, on the basis of reciprocity, without conditions or discriminatory treatment and in full respect of sovereignty, independence and non-interference in the countries’ internal affairs.”

The talks will include “the concerns we have about human rights in the United States and other areas.”

“We are aware that we have profound differences with the government of the United States in the areas of political systems, democracy and human rights, and international law,” he said.

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Since President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro announced on December 17 that their countries would resume relations after more than five decades of enmity, the two sides have held three rounds of talks.

But they have not yet broached the sensitive issue of human rights, an area where Washington has called for sweeping reforms from the communist island.

Cuba counters that the United States’ own record on human rights is lacking, pointing especially to the prison at Guantánamo Bay set up to hold terror suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The countries have so far focused on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies, which Obama is keen to see happen before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10 and 11.

Cuba has insisted it first be removed from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terror.

The two sides also have to iron out a number of other issues, such as compensation for American property nationalized after the Cuban Revolution, freedom of movement for diplomats and the embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1962, which Obama would need the blessing of the Republican-controlled Congress to lift.

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