TIME diplomacy

U.S. and Cuba Announce Embassy Openings

Head of US Interests Section in Havana delivers a letter from Obama to Cuban President Castro
Alejandro Ernesto—EPA Chief of Mission at the US Interests Section in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis (left) meets Cuban interim Foreign Minister, Marcelo Medina (right), in Havana, Cuba, on July 1, 2015.

Both countries will restore full diplomatic relations and reopen embassies July 20

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba will reopen their embassies in Havana and Washington, heralding a “new chapter” in relations after a half-century of hostility.

“We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said from White House Rose Garden. “Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward.”

Cuban television broadcast Obama’s statement live, underscoring the new spirit.

The embassy agreement marks the biggest tangible step toward normalizing relations since the surprise announcement in December that the U.S. and Cuba were restarting diplomatic ties. The posts in Washington and Havana are scheduled to open July 20, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said.

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba for the opening of the U.S. Embassy.

For Obama, ending the U.S. freeze with Cuba is central to his foreign policy legacy as he nears the end of his presidency. Obama has long touted the value of direct engagement with global foes and has argued that the U.S. economic embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.

The president on Wednesday reiterated his call for Congress to lift the embargo, which he said has failed to bring political change in Cuba. However, he faces stiff resistance from Republicans, as well as some Democrats, who say he is prematurely rewarding a government that engages in serious human rights abuses.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement that opening a U.S. Embassy in Cuba “will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”

The president also will face strong opposition in Congress to spending any taxpayer dollars for building or refurbishing an embassy in Havana. Congress would have to approve any administration request to spend money on an embassy.

The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution. The U.S. spent decades trying to either actively overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including toughening the economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other’s capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and do not enjoy the same status as embassies.

Ahead of Obama’s remarks, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana delivered a letter from the White House to Cuba about restoring embassies in the countries’ respective capitals. U.S. Interests Section chief Jeffrey DeLaurentis arrived at the Cuban Foreign Ministry in Havana on Wednesday morning to hand-deliver the message.

In a highly unusual move, Cuban state television broadcast Obama’s remarks live with translation in Spanish.

While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations. Among them: talks on human rights; demands for compensation for confiscated American properties in Havana and damages to Cuba from the embargo; and possible cooperation on law enforcement, including the touchy topic of U.S. fugitives sheltering in Havana.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the opening of embassies was part of the administration’s “common sense approach to Cuba.” However, he called for Cuba to recognize that it is out of step with the international community on human rights.

“Arrests and detentions of dissidents must cease and genuine political pluralism is long overdue,” Cardin said in a statement.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met in April during a regional summit, marking the first time U.S. and Cuban leaders have met in person since 1958.

For Obama, the embassy announcements come amid what the White House sees as one of the strongest stretches of his second term. He scored major legislative and legal victories last week, with Congress giving him fast-track authority for an Asia-Pacific free trade deal and the Supreme Court upholding a key provision of his health care law.

The court also ruled in favor of gay marriage nationwide, an outcome Obama supported.

___

Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.

TIME diplomacy

Pope Francis Urges Putin to Make ‘Sincere’ Peace Efforts in Ukraine

Vatican Pope Russia putin
Gregorio Borgia—AP Pope Francis walks next to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of a private audience at the Vatican, June 10, 2015.

The private talk concentrated on the Ukraine conflict and the Middle East

(VATICAN CITY) — Pope Francis met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on Wednesday, using the talks to call for a sincere effort aimed at bringing peace to Ukraine.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said their talks concentrated on the Ukraine conflict and the Middle East, where the Holy See is worried about the fate of the Christian minority.

Putin earlier Wednesday met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Milan and arrived an hour late to the meeting at the Vatican — his second with Francis since he became pope in 2013.

Lombardi said Francis stressed the need “to commit oneself in a sincere and great effort to bring” peace to Ukraine, through dialogue and implementation of the Minsk accords.

Francis also urged access for humanitarian aid.

The United States, using diplomatic channels, had encouraged the Vatican to use the private papal audience as an occasion to join the West in condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said the U.S. would like to see the Vatican increase its concern about what is happening in Ukraine during the pope’s meeting with Putin.

“We think they could say something more about concern of territorial integrity, those types of issues,” Hackett told reporters. “It does seem that Russia is supporting the insurgents. And it does seem that there are Russian troops inside Ukraine. This is a very serious situation.”

Earlier Wednesday, however, Putin won lavish praise from Renzi as a crucial player in international anti-terrorism efforts, as Renzi sought the Russian president’s help in ending the conflict in Libya that has fueled the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Renzi greeted Putin as Russia’s “dear” president and didn’t voice any criticism against the country’s actions in Ukraine, saying simply that they both agreed there must be full implementation of the Minsk peace accord.

Renzi met Putin after a tour of Russia’s pavilion at Milan’s Expo.

At a brief Russian-Italian news conference in Milan, Putin stressed the price Italian businesses are paying for the economic sanctions lodged by the European Union against Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine during the conflict.

Putin noted how several infrastructure projects, won in bidding by Italian companies, were stalled because of sanctions against some Russian financial institutions. Likewise, sanctions forced the cancellation of some contracts in the military sphere, costing 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in earnings for Italian companies, Putin said.

The leaders of the world’s industrialized democracies for a second year in a row refused to let Putin join their G-7 summit, which ended earlier this week. They said sanctions against Russia won’t be lifted until Moscow fully implements its part of the Ukraine peace accord, and could be increased if needed.

Russia accuses Ukraine of failing to launch political dialogue with the rebellious east and of keeping its economic blockade of areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Kiev, the United States, NATO and European leaders have blamed Moscow for supplying rebels with manpower, training and weapons. Russia denies the claims.

Both Putin and Renzi spoke confidently of moving forward after the eventual full implementation of the Minsk peace accords.

Renzi praised Russia for being “in the front row in facing the global threats we are all facing.”

Citing Russia’s role as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, he said Italy “needs Russia’s help on the Libyan question.” Renzi didn’t give specifics on what he hoped Russia might do on Libya.

People-smugglers have been flourishing in Libya amid the confusion, violence and chaos that followed the demise of Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship in 2011. Rival Libyan governments and tribal and militia fighting so far have combined to thwart Italy’s calls for reconciliation and pacification in Libya as a way to combat the smuggling.

While the pope has deplored the loss of life in Ukraine and called for all sides to respect the cease-fire, he has not publicly placed any blame on Russia in an apparent bid to not upset Vatican relations with the Orthodox Church and in hopes of engaging Russia’s help to confront the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Hackett, the U.S. ambassador, noted that Putin had spoken about the plight of Christians and that that was clearly an area of concern for the Vatican.

“I’d like to see if he’s got a proposal,” he said of Putin.

A cease-fire agreement for Ukraine has been shaky. The heaviest fighting in months broke out in recent days between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

After meeting with the pope, Putin was expected to spend time later Wednesday with his old friend, ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

___

(This story has been corrected to show Hackett spoke Wednesday, not Tuesday.)

___

Winfield reported from Rome. Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow and Frances D’Emilio contributed from Rome.

TIME diplomacy

Obama Works to Mend U.S.-German Ties at G7 Summit

G7 Summit barack obama germany
Daniel Karmann—picture-alliance/AP US President Barack Obama raises his glass of German beer in Kruen, Germany, June 7, 2015 as he joined with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) before they attend the G7 summit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

"There's never a bad day for a beer and a weisswurst"

(KRUEN, Germany) — Feasting on Bavarian beer and sausages, President Barack Obama on Sunday celebrated decades of U.S. friendship with Germany despite recent challenges and said the country “is proof that conflicts can end and great progress is possible.”

Obama kicked off an overnight visit to attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders by focusing on mending relations with host Germany, visiting the picturesque Alpine village of Kruen with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“This morning as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known my message to the German people is simple: We are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world,” Obama said as he addressed the timeless Bavarian scene, complete with the sounds of alphorns.

Obama is closer to Merkel than most heads of state, although their relationship has been tested in the past couple of years, particularly after it emerged that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel’s cellphone. The revelation was particularly chilling in Germany, with its oppressive history of secret government surveillance.

But Merkel seemed eager to move on. She said in interviews that she didn’t bring the spying controversy up with Obama since they’ve already discussed what needed to be said in previous meetings. In her speech in Kruen, she addressed him as “dear Barack.”

“Although it is true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very closely,” Merkel said through a translator. “We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it.”

Obama and Merkel met privately afterward at the nearby Schloss Elmau resort to coordinate their summit agenda before joining the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. Russian President Vladimir Putin was ousted from the group last year over his annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, although the crisis remains as fighting with pro-Moscow separatists spiked in the past week despite a ceasefire agreement negotiated four months ago in Belarus.

Obama press secretary Josh Earnest said Merkel and Obama spent most of their meeting talking about the importance of showing unity in speaking out against Russia as Moscow “has essentially thumbed their nose at the commitments they made in the context of the Minsk negotiations.” Earnest said Obama is pushing Europe to preserve sanctions against Russia until Moscow lives up to that agreement, but he couldn’t say the president is confident they will elect to do so later this summer.

“Ultimately it will be up to the Europeans to do so, keeping in mind our shared view that keeping up this unity is very important,” he said.

During the visit to Kruen, about 800 Germans filled the village square wearing traditional dress: wool hats decorated with feathers and goat hair plumes, women in dirndls and men in lederhosen. Well before noon they gathered at long tables covered in blue gingham tablecloths, drinking beer in what looked more like a biergarten than the setting for a presidential address.

“Gruess Gott!” Obama began, which literally translates as “greetings from god” but is the typical Bavarian greeting instead of “good day.”

“I have to admit that I forgot to bring my lederhosen but I’m going to see if I can buy some while I’m here,” Obama joked. He said when he first heard the G-7 would meet in Bavaria, he hoped it would be during Octoberfest.

“But then again, there’s never a bad day for a beer and a weisswurst,” Obama said. “And I can’t think of a better place to come to celebrate the enduring friendship between the German and the American people.”

After his remarks, Obama and Merkel joined one of the tables, sampling pretzels and the weisswurst sausage and toasting tall beer glasses. The label on the glass indicated they were drinking a wheat beer from the local Karg brewery in nearby Murnau, although it wasn’t clear if Obama’s was a non-alcoholic or regular version. “It was a very fine beer. I wish I was staying,” Obama said as he prepared to depart to plunge into two days of heavy discussions.

Next week, Germans will be looking to future U.S. relations beyond Obama’s presidency. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush plans to kick off a six-day European trip with a speech Tuesday in Berlin to the economic council of the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative party led by Merkel.

___

Pickler reported from Telfs, Austria.

TIME foreign affairs

Quiz: What’s the Right Role for America in the World?

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Take an interactive quiz to discover what you think America's role in the world should be

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:

 

TIME Iran

Ignore the Noise in Washington and Tehran. An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still Likely

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses military commanders in Tehran on April 19, 2015,

Despite the criticisms around the Iran negotiations, a deal is still more likely than not. But the real challenge will be implementation

In his first public comments after the U.S. and Iran settled on a nuclear framework agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pulled no punches: “The whole problem comes now that the details should be discussed, because the other side is stubborn, difficult to deal with, breaks promises and is a backstabber.”

Critics quickly pointed to the statement as proof that hopes for a final deal are evaporating. But the Ayatollah’s combative words don’t move the needle on whether we’ll get a final deal by the June 30 deadline.

Khamenei is posturing for two separate audiences. His hardline supporters in Iran could undermine his political authority if they believe he is capitulating to the West. The Ayatollah needs to placate this group while his negotiators, led by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, hammer out a deal behind closed doors. His second audience is the Western negotiators with whom he is trying to drive a hard bargain. Khamenei’s comments put more pressure on them, and sends a signal to his own negotiators not to cede ground.

But Khamenei authorized Iran’s president to appoint negotiators to work out a deal. The Supreme Leader has praised those negotiators via Twitter. The talks couldn’t have progressed this far if Khamenei wasn’t serious about getting a deal done to escape Western sanctions.

In fact, American detractors of the potential deal are engaging in a very similar form of theater. U.S. politicians want to score political points as much as their Iranian counterparts do: congressional Republicans and GOP presidential hopefuls are badmouthing the deal to ding President Obama and gain traction on the biggest global issue of the day. But the reality is that it will be impossible for Republicans to peel off enough Democrats to reach a veto-proof majority and overturn a final deal. The international community favors an Iran deal, and the American public is wary of undertaking military actions that could lead to another Middle East war.

A final deal between the U.S. and Iran remains more likely than not, but it’s not vitriolic tweets that threaten it most—it’s the remaining sticking points between the two sides. How much enriched uranium would Iran be allowed to stockpile? How much will a deal limit nuclear research using advanced machines? At what pace and in what sequence will the West lift sanctions while Iran carries out its end of the bargain?

These are critical and complex questions, but both sides know that they exist, and nothing that has been said from the sidelines in Tehran or Washington has changed that.

Yet even if the U.S. and Iran manage to agree on a final deal, the negotiations won’t end. The devil lies in the details of implementation. What happens if the U.S. discovers in four or five years that Iran is cheating, hiding nuclear weapons work from inspectors? How feasible will it be to punish Iran for undermining a deal, especially once sanctions are peeled back and Iran emerges from international isolation?

Reaching a deal is one thing. Making sure it doesn’t unravel is something else—and something that may be even tougher.

TIME Poland

U.S. Ambassador Apologizes to Poles Over FBI Director’s Holocaust Remarks

The 72nd anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Jakub Kaminski—EPA The U.S. ambassador to Poland, Stephen Mull, right, lays flowers at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw on April, 19, 2015

Envoy concedes that remarks were "offensive"

The U.S. ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull has apologized for remarks made by FBI Director James Comey, who penned a Washington Post op-ed last Thursday in which he accused Poland of being a collaborator in the Holocaust.

Mull, who had been summoned by Polish authorities, conceded that Comey’s remarks were “wrong, harmful and offensive.”

During Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland in World War II, more than 6 million Poles died in addition to millions of Jews, Roma and other groups who died in several extermination camps in the country.

In his article, which was based on a speech he delivered at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Comey referred to Polish “murderers and accomplices” and claimed that “in their minds” they “didn’t do something evil.”

The Polish embassy in Washington, D.C., published a statement over the weekend castigating Comey’s article “especially for accusing Poles of perpetrating crimes which not only did they not commit, but which they themselves were victims of.”

On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said, “To those who are incapable of presenting the historic truth in an honest way, I want to say that Poland was not a perpetrator but a victim of World War II.”

TIME Iran

These 5 Facts Explain the State of Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Sanctions, demographics, oil and cyberwarfare

As leaders in the United States and Iran maintain laser focus on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, it’s valuable to take a broader look at Iran’s politics, its economy, and its relations with the United States. Here are five stats that explain everything from Iran’s goals in cyberspace to its views of Western powers.

1. Sanctions and their discontents

Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iran’s economy is 15 to 20% smaller than it would have been without the sanctions that have been enacted since 2010. They leave Iran unable to access nearly four-fifths of the $100 billion in reserves the country holds in international accounts. Iran’s oil output has fallen off a cliff. Four years ago, Iran sold some 2.5 million barrels of oil and condensates a day. Over the last year, the country has averaged just over a million barrels a day. Even as the exports have fallen and the price has plummeted, oil still accounts for 42% of government revenues. Iran’s latest budget will slash spending by 11% after accounting for inflation.

(Bloomberg, The Economist)

2. Cyber-spending spree

But despite the belt-tightening, Tehran has been willing to splurge in one area. Funding for cyber security in the 2015/16 budget is 1200% higher than the $3.4 million allotted in 2013/14. Up until 2010, Iran’s chief focus in cyberspace was managing internal dissidents. But after news of the Stuxnet virus—a U.S.-led cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program—went public in 2010, Iran’s leaders shifted gears. According to one estimate, Iran spent over $1 billion on its cyber capabilities in 2012 alone. That year, it conducted the Shamoon attack, wiping data from about 30,000 machines belonging to Saudi oil company Aramco. In 2013, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard publicly declared that Iran was “the fourth biggest cyber power among the world’s cyber armies.”

(Global Voices, Wired, Strategic Studies Institute, Wall Street Journal)

3. New generation and old leadership

The median age in Iran is 28, and youth unemployment in the country hovers around 25%. Nearly seven out of ten Iranians are under 35 years old, too young to remember the Iranian revolution of 1979. But the country is controlled by older men, many of whom had an instrumental role in the revolution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 75 years old; there have been concerns about his health and Iran’s eventual succession plan. Iran’s Assembly of Experts is an opaque institution with huge symbolic importance: it is tasked with selecting and overseeing Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Assembly’s Chairman passed away in October at the age of 83. His replacement? Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is…83 years old.

(New York Times, CIA World Factbook, BBC)

4. The feeling is mutual

Over 70% of Iranians view the United States unfavorably—and 58% have “very unfavorable” views. On the flip side, more than three-quarters of surveyed Americans have unfavorable views of Iran. But that’s a more modest stance than some other European powers: 80% of French and 85% of Germans have unfavorable views of Iran. According to recent polls, Iran is no longer considered “the United States’ greatest enemy today.” In 2012, 32% of those polled chose Iran, good for first place. In 2015, just 9% selected Iran, placing it fourth behind China, North Korea and Russia, respectively.

(Center for International & Security Studies, Pew Research Center, Vox)

5. Support for a deal?

Negative views of Iran haven’t undermined Americans’ desire to try and cut a deal: 68% of Americans favor diplomacy with Iran. It’s a bipartisan majority: 77% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans are in favor of talks. Iranians have mixed expectations: only 48% think that President Rouhani will be successful in reaching an agreement. But if we do see a final deal, a lot more than Iranian oil could open up. Western businesses would love to break into a country that is more populous than Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Israel, Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan combined.

(Center for International & Security Studies, CNN survey, CIA World Factbook)

TIME diplomacy

Knifed U.S. Ambassador Can’t Wait to Get Back to Work

South Korea’s president visited injured U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on Monday, who hospital officials say is itching to get back to work after being knifed in the face.

President Park Geun-hye told the diplomat that while she had herself been victim of a similar attack in 2006 and undergone surgery at the same hospital, “it is even more heart-breaking thinking that an ambassador had to go through the same thing.”

Lippert — who received a large gash on his face and injury to his arm in the attack last week — could be released from the hospital as early as Tuesday, according to hospital officials…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Hillary Clinton Wants Emails Made Public

The former Secretary of State wants to release some of her emails to the public

Hillary Clinton said late Wednesday that she wanted her emails to be made available to the public, after coming under fire for exclusively using a personal email address while U.S. Secretary of State. Watch Know Right Now to catch up on the latest in this story.

TIME diplomacy

Iran’s Foreign Minister: We Believe We Are ‘Very Close’ to Nuke Deal

NAIROBI, KENYA - FEBRUARY 02: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya o February 02, 2015. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 2, 2015.

"We don't believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us"

Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon, and the sooner the world recognizes that, the sooner there will be a deal aimed at curbing its nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News.

“Iran is not about building nuclear weapons,” Zarif said in an exclusive interview with Ann Curry Wednesday. “We don’t want to build nuclear weapons, we don’t believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us.”

Zarif said his country’s nuclear ambitions were solely in the pursuit of “scientific advancement” and boosting national…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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