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For U.S. And Cuba, A Slow Walk To Re-Establishing Ties

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Meanwhile in Cuba, historic talks took place this week as American and Cuban diplomats sat face-to-face in Havana. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is now the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years. But yesterday, just one day after Jacobson talked with Cuban government officials about restoring diplomatic relations, she met with a group of Cuban dissidents. NPR's Carrie Kahn says, that meeting caused some controversy. We reached Carrie in Havana.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As right on cue, as always, the Cuban officials are very unhappy when U.S. officials come here and meet with dissidents. And that's exactly what happened. Jacobson's Cuban counterpart gave an interview last night, where she said that this is just a violation of a national sovereignty. And what happens when U.S. officials do that, is that they meet with a small group of Cubans that are not representative of the opinions of the larger population. And this is a violation of national sovereignty. They hate when U.S. officials do it, and right on cue, they said that again.

RATH: And what did Jacobson talk about with the dissidents yesterday? And did they have a message for her?

KAHN: The interesting thing about the dissident groups here in Cuba is that there's a lot of different views. Some are very much in favor of the U.S. opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, and some are not. And so she actually met with some dissidents that were in favor of U.S. policy. And those that were not in favor of U.S. policy boycotted the meetings and then later in the day, held their own press conference where they expressed their views, which we have heard for a long time. They just feel that there should not be any engagement with the Castro regime. But that is what the U.S. officials say is not working and that they want to change after 50 years of this policy.

RATH: Carrie, you've been out talking with people around Havana. What kind of things are you hearing about reestablishing diplomatic ties?

KAHN: I'd say overwhelmingly, the expectations are incredibly high. You hear people saying that they are so excited that they will be able to go to the U.S. They'll be able to go visit relatives that they haven't seen for years, decades. You hear them saying that now they'll even have more buses on the street of Havana. It's just - the expectations are very high, and they're going to be difficult to meet because the process is going to be incredibly slow. That's what we heard from both U.S. and Cuban officials - that, you know, just setting up embassies and exchanging ambassadors is probably the easy part. The hard part is repairing an acrimonious 50-year relationship. That's going to take a long time and a lot more work and a lot more meetings.

RATH: NPR's Carrie Kahn. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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