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Cuba Officially Removed From U.S. State Sponsor of Terror List

The White House takes an important symbolic step by removing Cuba from the official state sponsor of terror list.

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The United States took another step toward normalization of relations with Cuba on Friday, officially removing its onetime Communist foe from its official list of state sponsors of terror.

The White House initiated a 45-day congressional review of Cuba’s status on April 14, so Friday’s announcement is not a surprise. But it’s an important symbolic step as President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro try to thaw more than five decades of frozen diplomatic ties.

Republicans long ago conceded Cuba would be removed from the list and vowed not to fight it. “We can’t undo it,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told Foreign Policy in an interview in April.

The United States took another step toward normalization of relations with Cuba on Friday, officially removing its onetime Communist foe from its official list of state sponsors of terror.

The White House initiated a 45-day congressional review of Cuba’s status on April 14, so Friday’s announcement is not a surprise. But it’s an important symbolic step as President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro try to thaw more than five decades of frozen diplomatic ties.

Republicans long ago conceded Cuba would be removed from the list and vowed not to fight it. “We can’t undo it,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told Foreign Policy in an interview in April.

Getting rid of the terror designation is an important part of the ongoing process but additional hurdles remain. The State Department has yet to announce a site for the new U.S. Embassy in Havana, where it has had an interest section for more than 30 years. Obama also has yet to nominate an ambassador to Cuba, an appointment that is expected to face a tough fight in the Senate. There, anti-Castro lawmakers and 2016 GOP presidential contenders Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have vowed to block any nomination to the post.

The Senate must confirm all ambassador appointments.

“The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,” the State Department said in a statement.

“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation.”

The decision to remove Cuba from the list, which now comprises Iran, Syria, and Sudan, follows a historic meeting in Panama last month between Obama and Castro. High-level discussions between diplomats from each side have been ongoing since Cuba released aid worker Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison, in exchange for five Cuban prisoners in December 2014.

Leaving the list is largely a symbolic move. In a recent research note, law firm Hogan Lovells said that while Cuba’s removal would ease some economic sanctions, the majority of the punishments, including restrictions on foreign and humanitarian aid, remain in place.

Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

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