ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Obama says he'll remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. That's been seen as an important condition for normalizing diplomatic relations. Congress has 45 days to block the move if it chooses. Otherwise, Cuba goes off the list, leaving just Iran, Sudan and Syria. Joining us once again to talk about this is Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Secretary Jacobson, welcome to the program once again.
ROBERTA JACOBSON: Thanks for having me, Robert.
SIEGEL: How does this political statement concretely change U.S. dealings with Cuba?
JACOBSON: Well, I think that the decision the president made is a reflection of the facts, and it lifts some sanctions if Cuba were to be taken off the list. There are many other sanctions that remain in place, obviously, but it is as much a change in reputation in some ways. To be on that list is a mark in some ways that countries bear. But it does take them off of certain forms of sanctions that they will no longer have to be constrained by.
SIEGEL: Assuming that this removal of Cuba from the list goes through after the 45 days, what other obstacles stand in the way of upgrading the two countries' interests sections in Havana and Washington to true embassies?
JACOBSON: Well, let me be clear that the process that the president sought to review the State Sponsor of Terrorism List was independent of the negotiations that we're having on reestablishment of diplomatic relations and opening embassies. Certainly, the Cubans have at times linked those two things, but we will proceed to continue talking about what we need to have an embassy down there. We hope the Cubans will continue to have those discussions with us to ensure that we can get what we need to have an embassy that operates like embassies do in many other countries, including mobility for our diplomats and the ability to have an embassy that functions with adequate equipment and space for our diplomats.
SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that those talks on upgrading the intersections to embassies are going more slowly - perhaps more slowly by weeks, if not by months, than you had anticipated a few weeks ago?
JACOBSON: You know, I think that there's a burst of enthusiasm at the beginning of any of these conversations, and you hope that they will go very quickly because there is so much goodwill generated by an announcement like the one that President Obama made on December 17 and President Castro as well. But we still have to remember how much history we have to get past. And so when you sit down at the table and you actually have to talk about the particularities that both sides had to agree on to operate diplomatic missions, sometimes you still have to get past some of the history.
SIEGEL: I'm going to take that down as a yes, that it's a little more slow...
JACOBSON: (Laughter) I think...
SIEGEL: ...than you had thought at the beginning.
JACOBSON: ...I think that's probably a fair point.
SIEGEL: I have a question about that announcement on December 17. I was in Cuba since I spoke with you last, and the date December 17 is one that all Cubans know for two reasons. It was the announcement by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro, and it's also the day of the pilgrimage of San Lazaro, who in the Yoruba faith of Cuba is merged together with the healer entity Babalu Aye. And it's a hugely important day in the spiritual calendar of Cuba. Was that date selected by the Cubans, by Washington, by chance? How did it happen on that day?
JACOBSON: Well, I think I can assure you that it was not selected by us with conscious knowledge of a deep understanding of Yoruba symbolism. But I think it was in fact in many ways a date that simply worked well after a great deal of work had gone into getting to that point.
SIEGEL: Well, Secretary Jacobson, thanks for talking with us once again.
JACOBSON: Thank you very much, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
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