US, Cuba restore ties, open embassies after 54 years

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WASHINGTON, Jul 20:  Cuba and the United States formally renewed diplomatic ties Monday, as embassies reopened in their respective capitals, a powerful move toward burying decades of enmity between the Cold War foes.A foreign policy legacy for President Barack Obama, the historic turnaround between two bitter foes has come about at breakneck pace, in just a matter of months since the two sides agreed to bury the hatchet and work together as equals.
The shift came after Washington acknowledged that its policy of trying to affect change in tightly controlled communist Cuba through isolation and trade restrictions had failed, and that engaging Havana directly was a better way to nudge it towards democracy and prosperity.
For the first time since 1961, the Cuban flag will fly over Havana’s newly upgraded embassy in Washington, just a stone’s throw from the White House.
The standard with a white star inside a red triangle against white and blue stripes will also take its place among a row of flags from around the world adorning the State Department’s imposing marble entrance in the US capital.
In yet another historic gesture, US Secretary of State John Kerry will formally receive his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez for talks Monday, before holding a joint press conference around 1:45 pm (1745 GMT).
Earlier, Rodriguez will preside over a ceremony to mark the upgrading of the Cuban interests section to a full embassy.
The rapprochement was announced on December 17, as Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro agreed to end their countries’ estrangement and put them on track towards a full normalization of ties.
After a series of negotiations in Havana and Washington, the restoration of diplomatic relations has come about just seven months later.
But both nations have cautioned that this is only a beginning, warning that overcoming decades of very bad blood is not easy.
There are “issues that we don’t see eye-to-eye on,” State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted Friday.
The United States “wants to move beyond a Cold War-era approach to one of constructive engagement as a way to support and empower the Cuban people,” analyst Ted Piccone from the Brookings Institution told AFP.
“Cuba needs the United States as an economic engine for its troubled economy and hopes to attract new foreign investment and human capital to update its socialist model, but without undergoing political reform.”
“Building confidence and trust will be critical to the ability to move forward,” he added.
One of the biggest areas of contention remains human rights, with Washington pressing for an improvement in freedoms of expression, religion and the press in the Caribbean island nation.
Some Republicans have been sharply critical of what they see as US haste to cozy up with Cuba.
Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, the son o

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