TIME world affairs

Jimmy Carter Paved the Way for U.S. and Cuba Relations

He believed the best way to improve the lives of all Cubans and to overcome differences was through engagement

Thirty-eight years ago, Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro agreed to open downgraded embassies called Interest Sections in Havana and Washington, D.C. Carter’s intent was to normalize relations between the two countries during his tenure.

Those intentions were derailed by Cuba’s adventures in Africa, the Mariel Boatlift refugee crisis and the election of Ronald Reagan.

Carter left office, but the Interest Sections remained.

And now – five U.S. and two Cuban presidents later – the Interest Sections are again embassies. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba on August 14 to raise the American flag over the embassy in Havana.

This new openness required courage from two reformist presidents, Barack Obama and Raul Castro, but Jimmy Carter’s initiatives beginning four decades ago helped pave the way.

Domestic pressures

It took six years in office before Obama had the political capital to spend on changing Cuba policy.

At the beginning of Obama’s administration, Cuban-Americans opposed to an opening controlled key positions in Congress. That group included Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., then chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Obama waited until after the last election of his tenure – the 2014 midterm vote – to announce the results of his secret negotiations with the Cuban regime.

In Cuba, Raul Castro initiated difficult economic reforms in 2011 to wean half a million citizens from the state’s payroll and allow small businesses to begin the transition from a state-owned economy to a partially market-led one. He waited to get those reforms well under way before beginning to deal with the ambiguous politics of the United States. Still, Castro was pressed by the need to lift the financial strangulation imposed not only by the trade embargo but also the additional U.S. financial restrictions on foreign banks dealing with Cuba.

By the time of the announcement in December 2014, public opinion in the U.S. – even among Cuban-Americans – favored normalization and lifting the embargo.

Work Carter did decades ago helped change that public opinion.

Throwing the first pitch

In 1977, Carter’s policy changes were quite dramatic: he removed all travel restrictions on Americans to travel to Cuba and took the first big steps toward normalization while still in the midst of the Cold War.

In 2002 – well after leaving office in 1981 – Carter traveled to Cuba at the invitation of Fidel Castro, the first U.S. president to do so after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Carter sought to improve understanding between the two peoples and the two governments.

Carter made a speech in Spanish, broadcast live to the entire island, in which he called on the US as the more powerful country to take the first step and lift the embargo. He also called on the Cuban government to respect its own constitution by protecting free speech and assembly, and allowing the citizens to petition for a change in the laws.

He introduced the Cuban people to the Varela Project, an effort led by human rights activist Osvaldo Paya to collect signatures to trigger a referendum for legislative reform. The state-controlled media had ensured that most Cuban people had never heard of the project prior to the speech.

I accompanied Carter on that trip, as then-director of The Carter Center’s Americas Program, and I negotiated the terms for delivery of that speech with the Cuban authorities. I watched as Fidel Castro and his cabinet sat stony-faced on the front row of the University of Havana’s grand salon. Afterward, I feared a berating from Castro, but Castro only came up and said to Carter, “Let’s go watch the baseball game.”

Castro asked Carter for one favor – to walk out to the pitcher’s mound to throw out the first pitch without his security detail, to demonstrate Carter’s confidence in the Cuban people. Carter did so.

Carter and I traveled again to Cuba in 2011, this time to meet President Raul Castro. Relations were stymied by the imprisonment of American citizen Alan Gross in Cuba and the competing priorities of both presidents.

Osvaldo Paya died tragically in a car accident in 2012. His petition campaign had been twice delivered to the National Assembly with more than the required 10,000 signatures, but not accepted.

Change is coming

Cubans are slowly gaining rights to improved communication and internet, but implementation remains slow. Competing political parties are still not allowed. The U.S. trade embargo is still in place until the U.S. Congress decides to lift it.

Nevertheless, leaders in both countries are paving the way to test Jimmy Carter’s persistent belief that the best way to improve the lives of all Cubans and to overcome differences with any government is through engagement.

The tide is rapidly turning in favor of closer relations between both countries. The excitement was palpable at the opening of the Cuban embassy in D.C. a month ago.

The holdouts in Congress – still blocking U.S. companies who want to trade with Cuba and American citizens who want to travel freely – will be forced to give in sooner, rather than later.

When that happens, we should give some of the credit to Jimmy Carter.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME

Cuba’s Fidel Castro to the U.S.: You Owe Us Millions

Fidel Castro Makes Rare Public Appearance In Havana
Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photo—Getty Images Fidel Castro

The former leader spoke out against the U.S. in an essay published in the local media

It’s not exactly an olive branch.

In an essay published in local media, Fidel Castro celebrated his 89th birthday Thursday by arguing that the United States owes Cuba “many millions of dollars” because of the trade embargo Congress imposed on the island nation back in 1963, according to a report in L’Agence France-Presse

The essay, which was published Thursday, appeared just one day before John Kerry was set to appear at a ceremonial raising of the stars and stripes at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The event is meant to celebrate the official opening up of Cuba-U.S. relations last month.

Despite the thawing of Cuba-U.S. relations, the trade embargo remains in place, and can only be removed by an act of Congress.

TIME Foreign Policy

John Kerry Is Using JFK’S Cane for Support at Diplomatic Meetings in Asia

US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up Joseph Kennedy's cane, which has been used by John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, while talking about his broken leg during the 8th Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting at the Putra World Trade Center
Reuters US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up Joseph Kennedy's cane, which has been used by John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, while talking about his broken leg during the 8th Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting at the Putra World Trade Center August 5, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This is the third time the family has lent Kerry the cane

After a string of meetings in the Middle East and Singapore, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is now in Kuala Lumpur to attend this year’s ASEAN Regional Forum. He is still nursing a broken leg, the result of a bicycle accident in France two months ago, but has swapped his crutches for a silver-tipped cane — an heirloom currently on loan from America’s storied Kennedy family.

Kerry has a record of conducting politics in spite of personal injuries, and this is not the first time he has borrowed the Kennedy walking stick to carry himself.

“This cane has a history,” he said at the start of a meeting on Wednesday. First, Kerry explained, it was Joseph B. Kennedy’s, used during his ambassadorship to the U.K. during World War II. During that conflict, his son, President John F. Kennedy, had sustained back injuries, and later used the cane when the pain was particularly bad. Seven months after the President’s assassination in 1963, his brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, was in a plane crash that left him with a broken back. He’d use the cane intermittently for the rest of his life, but lent it on two occasions to Kerry, then his fellow Massachusetts Senator who looked to the “Lion of the Senate,” as Kennedy was known, as a political father figure.

“So when Vicki Kennedy, his widow, heard that I had broken my leg, she knew I was going to need the cane,” Kerry said. “She loaned it to me. So here it is. It’s — and the third time I’ve used it — three times is lucky, right?”

He made similar remarks while holding the cane at a 2010 campaign rally for Martha Coakley, who was up against Scott Brown to fill the Senate seat that Ted Kennedy had vacated. Months earlier, Kerry had delivered a eulogy at Kennedy’s funeral. The two had overlapped in the Senate for 24 years, relying on each other for friendship and political support (Kennedy’s campaign efforts were vital in ensuring that Kerry would receive the Democratic nomination in the 2004 presidential election). And as a teenager at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, a young Kerry is said to have idolized Kennedy’s brother, who had just been elected to the White House.

TIME Foreign Policy

White House Launches Twitter Account to Sell Iran Deal

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said officials will use the account to engage with the public and share information

Correction appended, July 21, 2015

The White House is ramping up its efforts to sell the nuclear deal with Iran to the American public, launching a webpage and a Twitter account focused on the pending agreement.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters en route to Pittsburgh on Tuesday that the digital tools would be used to “advocate for the recently announce agreement to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Administration officials will use the Twitter handle @TheIranDeal, which had gathered 2,000 followers by early Tuesday afternoon, to “distribute facts” and “engage” with the public about the deal. The webpage will host fact sheets and infographics.

Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in the White House’s all-hands-on-deck approach to pitching the nuclear deal with Iran, which awaits approval from a skeptical Congress.

Administration officials immediately began their sales pitch once the historic deal was reached last week, sending Vice President Joe Biden to visit with Democrats on Capitol Hill and having the President host a press conference at which he sought to address concerns about the deal raised by members of Congress and allies in the region who are opposed to it.

On Sunday, as Secretary of State John Kerry made his rounds on talk shows, President Obama took a handful of Congressional members golfing.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated where White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was traveling to when he discussed the new Twitter account. He was en route to Pittsburgh.

TIME faith

John Kerry Praises Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical

Secretary of State John Kerry called Pope Francis’ encyclical a “powerful” statement on the threat of climate change Thursday.

Kerry, who is Catholic, told TIME in a statement that religious engagement on the issue will help spur agreement at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

The Pope’s powerful encyclical calls for a common response to the critical threat climate change poses to our common home. His plea for all religions to work together reflects the urgency of the challenge. The faith community – in the United States and abroad – has a long history of environmental stewardship and aiding the poor, and Pope Francis has thoughtfully applied those same values to the very real threat our planet is facing today. The devastating impacts of climate change – like heat waves, damaging floods, coastal sea level rise and historic droughts – are already taking place, threatening the habitat all humans and other creatures depend on to survive. We have a responsibility to meet this challenge and prevent the worst impacts. As stewards of our planet, we can all work together to manage our resources sustainably and ensure that the poorest among us are resilient to climate change. We have the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science to show us what is causing this problem, and we are equipped with the tools and resources to begin solving it. Engagement on this issue from a wide range of voices is all the more important as we strive to reach a global climate agreement this December in Paris.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker met with Vatican officials, including the Holy See’s Undersecretary for Relations with States Antoine Camilleri, on May 26 at the Holy See to discuss climate change and Pope Francis’ 2015 Development goals.

“When he speaks on issues—whether it’s on climate change, alleviating poverty, or peace and security issues—it just has a real resonance and that’s something that we find incredibly useful,” Crocker says. “It’s so important for Pope Francis to be speaking in the way that he is—with such a clear voice. He brings such a moral authority to these questions, and his voice resonates in a way throughout the world, which we think provides him with crucial impetus—both political and moral—to help us reach an agreement in Paris at the end of the year.”

It’s another sign that the Obama administration is hoping to leverage Pope Francis’ efforts on shared commitments, especially in advance of his upcoming trip to the U.S. In September. “We have really renewed energy—strong leadership from the United States, but also countries from around the world, and I think real dedication and commitment to try to reach a durable agreement in Paris, which is the historic step, obviously, at the end of this year,” Crocker tells TIME. “It’s a top priority for the administration.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett was at the Vatican press conference Thursday morning for the encyclical’s release.

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 2016 Election

6 Poems 2016 Candidates Should Read

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs the guest book at the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland on July 3, 2010.
Drew Angerer—AFP/Getty Images Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs the guest book at the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland on July 3, 2010.

It's National Poetry Month and the official start of several 2016 campaigns

Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo famously said that “you campaign in poetry; you govern in prose” to contrast the difference between the soaring rhetoric of a candidate and the workaday efforts of an elected official.

That’s even more true this April, which is both National Poetry Month and the likely kickoff of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, among others.

Here’s a look at six poems the candidates might want to read.

“I Hear America Singing”
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work…

Walt Whitman briefly worked as an editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, not too far from where Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters will be located. Although not overtly political, his poem “I Hear America Singing” celebrates blue-collar jobs, a staple of campaign rhetoric. Throw in a few clips of Iowa farmers and this could be the voiceover of a positive ad.

“Next to of course god america i”
by e.e. cummings

next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go…

On the other end of the spectrum, e.e. cummings’ “Next to of course god america i” is a parody of typical campaign rhetoric, mashing together various patriotic cliches. The sardonic final line — “He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water” — brings to mind Marco Rubio, who famously took a swig of Poland Spring in the middle of his response to the 2013 State of the Union.

“Exquisite Candidate”
by Denise Duhamel

I can promise you this: food in the White House
will change! No more granola, only fried eggs
flipped the way we like them. And ham ham ham!
Americans need ham! …

Less bitter than cummings’ take on political rhetoric, Denise Duhamel’s humorous 1961 poem is a nice palate cleanser for voters who are tired of hearing the candidates make false boasts and empty promises. Frankly, whoever can say “I am the only candidate to canoe over Niagara Falls / and live to photograph the Canadian side” gets our vote.

“Let America Be America Again”
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free…

There’s some risk for candidates who borrow a turn of phrase from a poet. Conservatives criticized John Kerry for using the opening line as an unofficial campaign slogan in 2004, while Rick Santorum backed away from it during the 2012 campaign, in both cases because of the Communist leanings of poet Langston Hughes. Another line in the poem—”America never was America to me”—also undercuts political use of the poem.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
by Robert Frost

…The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Robert Kennedy cited this Robert Frost poem as a favorite of his late brother, President John F. Kennedy, arguing that it “could apply it to the Democratic Party and to all of us as individuals.” It’s also pretty good inspiration for the poor candidate trudging along the campaign trail, making promises to voters.

“September 1, 1939”
by W.H. Auden

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Written during the early days of World War II, W.H. Auden’s dark poem gained new resonance in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. It also played a role in one of the most famous political ads in history, Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy,” which ends with a nuclear explosion and a brief excerpt from a speech in which LBJ paraphrases the line: “We must either love each other, or we must die.”

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to break up the NSA.

By Bruce Schneier at CNN

2. By prescribing appearances, sororities are contributing to a culture of segregation.

By Clio Chang in U.S. News and World Report

3. In Egypt, the U.S. still values security over human rights.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

4. Bartering for eggs is saving giant turtles in Cambodia.

By Yoeung Sun at Conservation International

5. How does Internet slang work its way into American Sign Language?

By Mike Sheffield, Antwan Duncan and Andrew Strasser in Hopes and Fears

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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