Cuba, US say third round of diplomatic negotiations ends

 A person looks at magnets for sale inside a souvenir shop, one showing an image of U.S. President Barack Obama smelling a cigar, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 16, 2015. U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting Monday in last-minute closed door negotiations in Havana, in hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations before the Summit of the Americas in April. The magnet the person is touching reads in Spanish: “Here, nobody gives up,” a popular quote attributed to Cuba’s late revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA, 17 Mar. (AP M. Weissenstein)   A third round of U.S.-Cuban negotiations over the restoration of full diplomatic relations ended after a day of talks, Cuban and U.S. officials said Tuesday.

They provided no details on whether progress was made toward a deal on reopening embassies in Washington and Havana. The two countries have been trying to strike an agreement on embassies before presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11. 
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations said the talks took place “in a professional atmosphere” and “the two delegations agreed to maintain communication in the future as part of this process.”

Jeff Rathke, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said “the discussion was positive and constructive and was held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Neither side said Tuesday whether they had resolved any of the obstacles to reopening embassies, which include Cuba’s continuing presence on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Cuba’s objections to U.S. diplomatic contact with dissidents on the island.
The State Department said Friday that topics being discussed at the latest round would include lifting caps on Cuban and U.S. diplomatic staff and limits on their movements outside Havana and Washington.

The secretive atmosphere was striking in contrast to previous discussions about U.S.-Cuban detente. After two earlier meetings, U.S. and Cuban diplomats engaged in wide-ranging exchanges with reporters from both nations that were broadcast on Cuban state television to rapt audiences on the island.
Cuban state media dedicated virtually no coverage to Monday’s talks, focusing instead on statements of support for Venezuela in the face of new sanctions by the United States, which declared last week that the South American country was a threat to U.S. national security.

Cuban state television showed Raul Castro arriving in Caracas, Venezuela for a Tuesday summit of left-leaning Latin American countries organized in response to the American sanctions. Cuban state newspapers published a relatively rare and strongly worded front-page letter from former president Fidel Castro, declaring that Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally, “will never accept threats and impositions” from the United States.

Despite the rhetoric, Julia Sweig, an expert on U.S. relations with Cuba and Venezuela, said there was no sign that the increasingly strained U.S. relationship with Venezuela was affecting the warming of relations with Cuba.
“What’s so interesting is that it doesn’t seem to derailing the bilateral process, which is exactly as it should be,” said Sweig, a senior research fellow at LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin.