May 30, 2017 / 4:39 AM / 2 months ago

Trump administration nearing completion of Cuba policy review - sources

4 Min Read

A vintage car passes by in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, January 12, 2017.Alexandre Meneghini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is nearing completion of a policy review to determine how far it goes in rolling back former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba and could make an announcement next month, according to current and former U.S. officials and people familiar with the discussions.

President Donald Trump’s advisers are crafting recommendations that could call for tightening some of the trade and travel rules that Obama eased in his rapprochement with Havana but which are expected to stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility, the sources said.

The policy review, coordinated by the National Security Council, is expected pick up steam now that Trump has returned from his first foreign trip, one administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump threatened in a tweet shortly after his election in November to “terminate” Obama’s approach unless Cuba made significant concessions, something its Communist leadership is unlikely to do.

The White House said in February that Cuba policy was under comprehensive review and that human rights on the island would be a major part of any revised strategy.

Obama implemented his Cuba normalization measures through executive actions that bypassed Congress, and Trump is believed to have the power to undo much of it with the stroke of a pen.

Divisions in Trump Administration

But there are divisions within his administration over to what extent he should go, especially given that Obama’s opening to Washington’s former Cold War foe has created opportunities for American companies ranging from telecommunications to airlines.

Some aides have argued that Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising to unleash U.S. businesses and create jobs, would have a hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.

A group of 54 U.S. senators reintroduced legislation last Thursday to repeal all remaining restrictions on travel to Cuba, signalling support for U.S.-Cuba detente on Capitol Hill.

But the Republican administration has been under heavy pressure from Cuban-American lawmakers such as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart to take a much harder line than Trump's Democratic predecessor.

There is little support in the administration, however, for a full-scale reversal of Obama's steps that began with a breakthrough with Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014.

Among the options under consideration are tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises and re-imposing stricter rules on Americans travelling there, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It remains unclear, however, which recommendation will make their way to Trump, though the sources said a list was likely to be ready for his consideration in coming days or weeks.

“We’re getting closer,” an administration official said.

An announcement of changes could come as soon as June, according to the official and people familiar with the matter.

The Daily Caller newspaper reported on Sunday that Trump would announce policy changes in a June speech in Miami, citing sources from a group opposed to the broader U.S. economic embargo that remains in place against Cuba.

But the timing could also depend on factors such as whether Trump fills key Latin America posts at the State Department and elsewhere that remain vacant, sources told Reuters.

The White House considered making a Cuba announcement on May 20 to mark the 115th anniversary of Cuba's independence, but that coincided with Trump's overseas trip and the review also was not yet finished, the sources said.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Robert Birsel

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