Clinton: Raul Castro comments 'welcome'

April 17, 2009 10:38:05 AM PDT
The head of the Organization of American States said Friday that he will ask its members to readmit Cuba 47 years after they ousted the communist nation. And in another step toward improving relations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Cuban President Raul Castro's latest comments a "very welcome gesture." After a series of overtures from U.S. President Barack Obama, Castro said Thursday that he is ready to talk with the U.S. and put "everything" on the table, even questions of human rights and political prisoners.

"We welcome his comments, the overture they represent and we are taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond," Clinton said while visiting the Dominican Republic on her way to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

Obama and Clinton had earlier said that Havana needs to reciprocate his "good faith" gesture of removing some of the restrictions that lock Americans and their money out of Cuba. But Castro's comments seem to be helping relations move forward even without a more concrete move by Cuba on issues that have long been U.S. sticking points.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza announced his intention to back Cuba's readmission to his group as Western Hemisphere leaders began arriving for 34-nation summit that excludes Cuba.

The OAS is run by consensus, and "we're going step by step," Insulza said. He said he would ask the organization's general assembly in Honduras at the end of May to annul the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba.

The resolution called Cuba's communist system incompatible with the organization's principles and coincided with the imposition of a U.S. trade embargo. Among OAS members, only Mexico didn't break relations with Cuba at the time.

Most countries in the hemisphere have since restored diplomatic ties and have been clamoring in recent months for an end to Cuba's exclusion.

Castro's offer to discuss any and all topics with Washington - from freedom of the press to freeing political prisoners - may provide even more of a political opening.

At a meeting in Venezuela of allied nations organized by President Hugo Chavez, the Cuban chief called for the OAS to "disappear." And Chavez said the OAS remains a tool of U.S. policy.

Washington provides more than 70 percent of the organization's budget, which affords it certain privileges.

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