Kerry meets Cuba foreign minister

7777329237_000-was8916730HAVANA, 10 April (AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Cuban counterpart in Panama late Thursday in the highest-level discussion between representatives of Washington and Havana in more than 50 years.

The State Department said Kerry met Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ahead of the Summit of the Americas, which begins Friday. A senior State Department official described the discussion between Kerry and Rodriguez as “lengthy and very constructive”, but provided few details.

Reuters reported that the meeting in the restaurant of a Panama City hotel lasted for at least two hours, with Kerry occasionally gesticulating toward Rodriguez.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro are also in Panama to attend the summit. The two leaders are expected to interact in some form Friday, though no formal meeting is scheduled. This year marks Cuba’s first appearance at the Summit of the Americas, which have been seven times since 1994.

In December, Obama and Castro announced their intention to restore diplomatic relations, beginning a painstaking process that has brought to the surface difficult issues that have long fed in to the U.S.-Cuban estrangement. Hopes of reopening embassies in Havana and Washington before the summit failed to materialize. The U.S. is still pushing Cuba to allow more freedom of movement for its diplomats, while Cuba wants relief from a sanctions regime that only Congress can fully lift.

Most controversially, some White House officials have indicated that the State Department is poised to recommend that Cuba be removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982.

While in Jamaica on Wednesday, Obama signaled that he will soon act to remove Cuba from the list, a move that could come within days.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said in Kingston, before flying to Panama City. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”