September 7, 2008 / 3:46 PM / 10 years ago

Rice says time not right to lift embargo on Cuba

RABAT (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday that it would be unwise for Washington to lift an embargo against Cuba, despite its pleas following Hurricane Gustav.

Cuba spurned an offer from the U.S. to send hurricane victims $100,000 (56,552 pounds) in aid through relief organisations and said on Saturday that the United States should instead sell it relief supplies and allow food sales on credit.

Rice said U.S. President George W. Bush had made clear that Washington would be “responsive” to the Cuban regime if it was prepared to free political prisoners and had a process for free and fair elections, among other reforms.

“We see nothing that suggests that has come about. What we can’t do is to have the transfer of power from one dictatorial regime to another. That is not acceptable,” she said during a visit to Morocco.

“I don’t think that in the context of what we see now that the lifting of the embargo would be wise,” she said.

The Bush administration permitted the sale of food to Cuba for cash in 2001 when Hurricane Michelle lashed the communist-run island nation.

The sales, allowed under an amendment to the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, have continued since then. But proposals in Congress to permit banks and companies to supply credit for the goods are opposed by the White House.

Gustav slammed into western Cuba damaging or destroying 100,000 houses and dealing a blow to agriculture. Hurricane Ike is now charging toward Cuba and was expected to arrive late on Sunday, severely threatening sugar cane fields, the tourist hotels of Varadero and the crumbling colonial buildings of Havana.

Reporting by Sue Pleming

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