Newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry may strike Cuba from the State Department’s “Sponsors of Terrorism” list, a move that would mark a major step toward undoing the five-decade trade embargo against the island.
But then again, he may not.
The Boston Globe reported Thursday that high-level U.S. officials have concluded that Cuba no longer fits the definition of a state sponsor of terror and should be removed from the list, which only includes three other countries -- Iran, Sudan and Syria. Kerry is reviewing the policy and has discussed it with officials, the paper reports.
But the report drew a denial from State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. According to the Miami Herald, she said:
I saw that report. Let me say firmly here it is incorrect. This department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list. We review this every year, and at the current moment we -- when the last review was done in 2012 --didn't see cause to remove them. We’ll obviously look at it again this year, but as I said, we don’t have any plans at the moment.
Countries on the state sponsors of terrorism list face restrictions on U.S. foreign aid, a ban on military exports, and other restrictions.
Policymakers originally placed Cuba on the list for supporting leftwing guerrillas across the Americas, according to The Miami Herald. In recent years, the State Department has justified Cuba’s inclusion over its alleged support of Colombia’s FARC rebels and the Basque separatist group ETA, as well as for refusing to extradite U.S. citizens living on the island.
There’s reason, however, to think that behind closed doors U.S. officials may offer a different assessment. A 2009 State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks did not view Cuba as a likely threat for international terrorism.
George W. Bush struck North Korea from the list in 2008, according to the Boston Globe.
The United States began warming up to Cuba when President Obama took office in 2008. He loosened travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans put in place by his predecessor, increased the amount of remittances U.S. citizens may send to the island, and placed greater emphasis on fostering person-to-person contacts, among other changes.
Cuba also showed signs of liberalizing since Obama took office. Head of State Raúl Castro has released dozens of political prisoners, presided over a watershed liberalization of the economy, and called for term limits for the islands geriatric political class.
But the continued jailing of U.S. Aid subcontractor Alan Gross on charges of undermining Cuba’s sovereignty have stalled further efforts to open relations.
Many observers suspect that Cuban officials would be open to discussing the release of Gross in exchange for five intelligence agents jailed for espionage. One of them, René Gonzalez, was released from jail in 2011 and is serving a three-year probation in the United States.
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