TIME diplomacy

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Planning Trade Mission to Cuba

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives for his inaugural ceremony at One World Trade Center in New York on Jan. 1, 2015.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives for his inaugural ceremony at One World Trade Center in New York on Jan. 1, 2015. Reuters

It'll be one of the first high-profile visits by an American politician to Cuba since President Obama ended travel restrictions this week

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected in his state-of-the-state address on Wednesday to announce he will lead a trade mission to Cuba in the coming months, according to a new report.

Citing an anonymous source, the Wall Street Journal reports that the second-term Democratic governor’s trip will be one of first visits to Cuba by a high-profile U.S. politician since President Obama struck down travel restrictions to the isolated Caribbean nation this month.

Read more: Viva Cuba Libre

Cuomo added Cuba as the first expected trip on his itinerary after the Obama administration released rules this week that travelers could visit Cuba without having to apply for a travel license.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME diplomacy

Barack Obama and David Cameron Are Going to Play a Cyber Attack War Game

UK PM David Cameron Visits Washington DC
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) walks with British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) through the colonnade as they are on their way for a working dinner at the Blue Room of the White House January 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Prime Minister Cameron is on a two-day visit to Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The U.S. and U.K. will collaborate on measures to prevent online crime

MI5 and the FBI will team up in a series of practice runs to combat cyber attacks, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Thursday during a two-day visit to the White House.

The two leaders will practice opening lines of communication in a series of war games staging potential global threats, beginning with a simulated attack on the Bank of England and Wall Street to take place later this year. It will be followed by tests on infrastructure.

Cameron tells the BBC that he wants to work with Obama on getting companies like Google and Facebook to cooperate with their governments when they need to see encrypted messages — a move that’s likely to be a red flag for privacy advocates.

“We need to work with these big companies,” Cameron said, “to make sure that we can keep people safe.”

[BBC]

TIME Cuba

Castro Hails Thaw in US Relations, But Reasserts Communist Rule

Raul Castro
Cuba's President Raul Castro points to the press during the closing of the twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 20, 2014. Ramon Espinosa—AP

“Every country has the inalienable right to choose its own political systems"

Cuban president Raul Castro hailed “a new chapter” in U.S.-Cuban relations on Saturday, but insisted the diplomatic thaw will not break Cuba from its Communist past.

“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro said in a Saturday speech before Cuba’s National Assembly, Reuters reports.

The speech comes as U.S. officials prepare for a historic visit to Havana in January, where they are expected to push their Cuban counterparts to allow a greater measure of political freedom in exchange for an easing of the U.S. embargo.

“The only way to advance is with mutual respect,” Castro said.

TIME diplomacy

15 Famous Cuban-Americans

Just 90 miles away from the United States, there are plenty of cross-cultural influences between the US and Cuba - despite political differences. Take a look at 15 famous Cuban-Americans whose heritage might surprise you

TIME diplomacy

The Vatican Helped Seal U.S.-Cuba Deal

Hosted secret talks between the two nations

The Vatican played a key role in securing the release of an American contractor held in Cuba for five years and in setting the stage for a cooling of relations between the two countries, officials said Wednesday.

Pope Francis encouraged the neighbors, who have not had diplomatic relations since the rise of Fidel Castro in 1961, to negotiate a deal, and even hosted secret talks at the Vatican between the two nations, Obama Administration officials said. Canada hosted many of the negotiations, until the final meeting at the Vatican.

The deal to release Alan Gross was finalized in a call between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, but Obama noted that the Vatican was instrumental in brokering the make-up.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raul Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the united states and cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official said, calling the papal letter “very rare. … The Vatican then hosted the U.S. and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

MORE: What to know about Alan Gross

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller / Washington

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. and Cuba Move to Thaw Relations After Prisoner Exchange

Alan Gross's release brings an immediate cooling of tensions

The U.S. will begin efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and will open an embassy on the island nation following the release of an American government subcontractor and a swap of intelligence assets, President Barack Obama said Wednesday. It marks the most significant change in the U.S.-Cuba relationship since the Cuban revolution.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” Obama said in a televised address. “I believe we can do more to support the Cuban people and our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown the isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Following a year of secret back-channel talks in Canada and at the Vatican, and culminating with a historic nearly hour-long call between Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on Tuesday, the Cuban government released 65-year-old Alan Gross on Wednesday on humanitarian grounds. His release clears the way for a broad relaxation of the 53-year U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In a prisoner swap, Cuba released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for 20 years, while the U.S. government released the final three members of the spy ring known as the Cuban Five remaining in federal prison.

A senior Administration official said the U.S. embassy would open “as soon as possible” in Havana.

Gross departed Cuba on Wednesday morning on a U.S. government plane, and arrived at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., shortly after 11 a.m., accompanied by members of Congress and his wife who had traveled to retrieve him aboard a U.S. Air Force plane. A Cuban court convicted Gross of espionage in 2011 and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for carrying communications devices into Cuba while working as as a subcontractor for U.S. Agency for International Development setting up Internet access in local communities. According to his attorney, Gross had been in deteriorating health while in prison.

Speaking at a news conference, Gross thanked Obama, said he supports the President’s policy shift and stressed he harbors no ill will toward the Cuban people.

“It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies,” Gross said. “Five and a half decades of history shows us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

“This is a game-changer which I fully support,” Gross added. “I truly hope we can get beyond these mutually belligerent policies.”

MORE: What to know about Alan Gross

The Obama Administration is maximizing the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba within the limits of the American travel ban, the President is “doing everything in his authority to facilitate travel within the limits of the law,” an official said, adding that Obama would support congressional efforts to lift the ban. Obama also announced that his Administration is easing economic and financial restrictions on Cuba, including increasing permitted American exports, as well as raising the cap on remittances. U.S. financial institutions will also be allowed to open accounts at Cuban banks to process permitted transactions, and U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use in Cuba for the first time. Obama is also directing Secretary of State John Kerry to launch an immediate review of the 1982 designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, in consultation with intelligence agencies.

“I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight,” Obama said.

Obama cannot unilaterally lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

“I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo,” he said.

In an address that took place while Obama was speaking, Castro said he welcomes the cooling of relations between the two countries, but that differences remain that the countries need to learn to live with “in a civilized manner.”

Obama has twice previously relaxed restrictions on Cuba, in 2009 and 2011, opening the door for Americans to visit family members in Cuba and allowing travel for religious, educational and cultural endeavors. Authorized American travelers will now be able to import up to $400 in Cuban goods into the U.S., including $100 in tobacco and alcohol products. But senior Administration officials said there would be no immediate change to the ban on imports of Cuban cigars and other products for retail purposes.

Obama’s announcement was quickly criticized by Republicans and Democratic lawmakers who have long defended the embargo. Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) blasted Obama’s decision as having “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

“This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people,” Menendez said.

American officials contend that the U.S. policy toward Cuba was antiquated and ineffective, failing to bring down the Castro regime after more than 50 years. Obama said he respects the “passion” of those who may disagree with his decision, but said he believes now is the time for a change. “I do not believe that we can do the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” he said.

In coordination with the American announcements, the Cuban government will announce that it will free 53 prisoners deemed by the U.S. to be political prisoners, American officials said. Additionally, the Cuban government has told the U.S. it intends to expand Internet connectivity for its citizens. But despite objections by the Cuban government, the U.S. will continue to fund so-called democracy programming in Cuba, meant to promote human rights and support the free flow of information into the communist country.

American officials praised the role of Canada and the Vatican, particularly Pope Francis, in helping bring about the agreement.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raúl Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the United States and Cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official said, calling the papal letter “very rare … The Vatican then hosted the U.S. and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

In a statement earlier this month marking the five-year anniversary of Gross’s arrest, Obama said that if the Castro-led Cuban government released him it would set the stage for other reconciliation efforts.

“The Cuban Government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” Obama said.

TIME North Korea

American in North Korea Said to Denounce U.S.

A man who identifies himself as Arturo Pierre Martine, a 29-year-old American raised in El Paso, Texas speaks at a press conference in North Korea's capital Pyongyang on Dec. 14, 2014.
A man who identifies himself as Arturo Pierre Martine, a 29-year-old American raised in El Paso, Texas speaks at a press conference in North Korea's capital Pyongyang on Dec. 14, 2014. AP/Kyodo

His mother said he's mentally unstable

A Texas man who apparently entered North Korea illegally earlier this year has denounced American foreign policy in a lengthy news conference, according to a report Sunday, and plans to seek asylum in Venezuela.

The man, who identified himself as Arturo Pierre Martinez, 29, claimed he ventured into the reclusive country to provide what he described as “very valuable and disturbing information” regarding the U.S. to authorities in the isolated country, according to Reuters, citing footage of the statement released by North Korea’s state-run news agency. Martinez, who said he has been living in a hotel, thanked authorities for treating him well.

Martinez’s mother, Patricia Eugenia Martinez, told CNN that her son is mentally unstable and had attempted to enter North Korea before.

The State Department acknowledged Sunday that it was aware of the situation and was ready “to provide all possible consular assistance.” A statement from Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf neither confirmed Martinez’s identity, nor noted his comments.

[Reuters]

TIME diplomacy

U.S. Couple Held in Qatar Can Leave, Diplomat Says

Matthew Huang, Grace Huang
Matthew, left, and Grace Huang, an American couple charged with starving to death their 8-year-old adopted daughter, speak to the press outside the a courthouse before their trial in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, March 27, 2014. Osama Faisal—AP

After their daughter died from complications of an eating disorder

The government of Qatar will allow an American couple to leave the country after an appeals judge dismissed their conviction in the starving death of their eight-year-old daughter, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday.

Qatar had held the couple, Matthew and Grace Huang of Los Angeles, even after the appeals judge dismissed the conviction on Sunday. But Ambassador Dana Shell Smith said that the travel ban had been lifted, and that the Huangs can leave Wednesday.

The Huangs were sentenced to three years in prison in March after the January 2013 death of their daughter, Gloria, who they said had died from…

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

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