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US, Cuba Hold High-Ranking Discussions

By VOA News
30 September 2009

The U.S. State Department says one of its senior diplomats recently held talks with a high-ranking Cuban official.

Officials say Bisa Williams, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, met with Deputy Foreign Minister Dagaberto Rodriguez several days ago in Havana. Williams was in Cuba for talks on resuming direct mail service, which have been suspended since 1963.

Williams also visited an area in the Western province of Pinar del Rio affected by recent hurricanes, and toured an agricultural facility. The French Press Agency also says she met with Cuban dissidents during her visit.

The recent high-level talks are the latest moves aimed at improving relations between the U.S. and the communist-ruled island since President Barack Obama took office in January.

In addition to talks on restoring direct mail service, Mr. Obama has lifted restrictions on travel and financial transfers by Cuban Americans to relatives still living on the island. The U.S. president has also restarted bilateral talks on migration issues that were suspended in 2004.

The U.S. has also turned off an electronic sign in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that posted messages blasting former Cuban President Fidel Castro. The Cuban government responded by taking down several large black flags hoisted to block the view of the ticker.

Despite the gestures, President Obama has extended the 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, which he says will remain in place until Havana takes steps towards democratic reforms.

Cuba says it will not negotiate on what it says are "internal" issues.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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