HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will tell the United States in face-to-face talks this week it wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism before restoring diplomatic relations, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.
The two adversaries will meet in Havana on Wednesday and Thursday in an attempt to restore ties that the United States severed in 1961.
They are the first talks since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would resume diplomatic ties and swap prisoners in a historic shift after five decades of hostilities.
The Cuban official said it was “unfair” to put Cuba on the U.S. State Department’s list, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.
While saying removal from the list was not necessarily a condition for restoring ties, the official said the Cubans would press the issue with the U.S. delegation.
“We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list,” the senior official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It doesn’t make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list).”
The designation comes with economic sanctions against the countries and can result in fines for companies that do business with them, such as the record $8.9 billion (5.9 billion pounds) penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year.
Obama said in his Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would review Cuba’s designation, and a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday the United States would move quickly and aggressively to remove Cuba from the list.
“We welcome the instructions to review the list but we don’t know what is going to happen,” the Cuban official said on Tuesday.
In its latest annual “Country Reports on Terrorism,” the State Department cited Cuba’s support for the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s left-wing FARC guerrillas.
But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm, and the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host.
“There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups,” the report said, and Obama said the United States was focussed on groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray and Lisa Shumaker