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State Dept. Reports No Progress on Restoring Ties With Cuba

The State Department cannot cite any progress on a key step in the Obama administration’s policy of restoring ties with the Cuban government: the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

A Cuban gives the thumbs up from his balcony decorated with the US and Cuban flags in Havana, on January 16, 2015. The United States will ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba on Friday, marking the first concrete steps towards restoring normal ties with the Cold War-era foe since announcing a historic rapprochement. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL Lage        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
A Cuban gives the thumbs up from his balcony decorated with the US and Cuban flags in Havana, on January 16, 2015. The United States will ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba on Friday, marking the first concrete steps towards restoring normal ties with the Cold War-era foe since announcing a historic rapprochement. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL Lage (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
A Cuban gives the thumbs up from his balcony decorated with the US and Cuban flags in Havana, on January 16, 2015. The United States will ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba on Friday, marking the first concrete steps towards restoring normal ties with the Cold War-era foe since announcing a historic rapprochement. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL Lage (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)

The State Department cannot cite any progress on a key step in the Obama administration’s policy of restoring ties with the Cuban government: the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Officials testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Tuesday noted continued disagreements between Washington and Havana over the level of access the Cuban government will give U.S. diplomats to island residents if an embassy is opened. That has fueled some concerns that the initial burst of diplomatic progress between the two countries may be stalling.

“Right now we are still … in the midst of negotiations to establish diplomatic relations,” said John Feeley, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department. “That is a process, and that will take some time, and honestly, I cannot tell you when that will happen.”

The State Department cannot cite any progress on a key step in the Obama administration’s policy of restoring ties with the Cuban government: the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Officials testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Tuesday noted continued disagreements between Washington and Havana over the level of access the Cuban government will give U.S. diplomats to island residents if an embassy is opened. That has fueled some concerns that the initial burst of diplomatic progress between the two countries may be stalling.

“Right now we are still … in the midst of negotiations to establish diplomatic relations,” said John Feeley, the principal deputy assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department. “That is a process, and that will take some time, and honestly, I cannot tell you when that will happen.”

Feeley and two other State Department officials appeared on Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the department’s budgetary priorities for operations in the Western Hemisphere.

Although few experts believed kick-starting diplomatic relations between the Cold War adversaries would happen overnight, the administration already missed its goal of opening a U.S. Embassy by the start of last month’s Summit of the Americas in Panama. At the time, U.S. officials said that deadline was missed due to Havana’s opposition to being on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Days after the April summit, U.S. President Barack Obama notified Congress of his intent to remove Cuba from the list, triggering a 45-day review period that is currently in place.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced in December that he would travel to Cuba and become the first secretary of state in 60 years to visit the communist island, but there has been no indication from Foggy Bottom since of when that will happen.

Tuesday’s hearing was attended by supporters of the Obama administration’s Cuba rapprochement, including Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, and ardent critics, such as Florida Republican Marco Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez.

During the hearing, Feeley noted the administration’s request for a $6 million increase in funding for the U.S. mission in Havana, which will be required “once our diplomatic activity ramps up.”

Feely noted that the embassy does not currently have a fleet of cars and lacks the space required for a fully functioning diplomatic mission. “There’s no room at the inn,” he said.

Rubio expressed concern that some Cuban employees hired by the embassy could be used to spy on U.S. officials and activities. He noted that it would be unlikely that the Cuban employees, handpicked by the Cuban government, would be merely plumbers or janitors. “This is not ideal,” he said.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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