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U.S.-Cuba Talks First Step In Long Process Of Restoring Relations


American and Cuban diplomats say they'll keep meeting after their historic talks this week in Havana. But they say it's going to be a long process before they open embassies and exchange ambassadors. The head of the U.S. delegation today said the two sides still have fundamental differences, but there are no preconditions to restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Havana and joins us now. And Carrie, this was the highest level U.S. delegation to visit Cuba in 35 years. What was the news out of the talks?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: I think the headline is, is that they met and that both sides were very cordial, said everything was respectful and that there was progress made. I think the other headline is that not much changed. Both sides voiced long-held complaints and grudges, and a lot of that was discussed, but that they're still meeting and they're still willing to meet.

SIEGEL: What are the stumbling blocks in these talks?

KAHN: Well, these are things that we've heard all along. From the Cuban side, the long U.S. embargo, economic embargo against Cuba, they want that lifted. A lot of times they talked about Cuba being listed on the U.S. State Department's list of state-sponsored terrorism. They said that is an incredible stumbling block for them, for full diplomatic relations to be restored. And they said that that designation is precluding them from finding a U.S. bank that will do their financial transactions for their intersection in Washington, so it's a great hindrance for them. They brought that up a lot. But they both say that they'll keep talking and that soon - although they won't give an exact timeline - there will be embassies in each other's countries and they'll exchange ambassadors.

SIEGEL: And what was said in these talks about human rights, or do we know?

KAHN: Well, the head of the U.S. delegation was asked that today at a briefing. She would not give any specifics regarding it. But she did say it is a central concern of the United States in dealing with Cuba. They are pushing for an improved human rights record and freedom of expression on the island. Curiously, the head of the Cuban delegation also said that human rights came up, and Cuba expressed its concern about the human rights situation in the U.S. and offered its assistance in that realm. But neither side wanted to get into too much nor did we hear any specifics.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That NPR's Carrie Kahn in Havana, in Cuba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.