Clinton Details Conditions for Cuba’s Entry to Organization of American States

By Matthew Lee | June 2, 2009 | 11:42 AM EDT
San Pedro Sula, Honduras (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that any move toward allowing Cuba to join the Organization of American States must be accompanied by the communist nation's release of political prisoners, respect for basic human rights and democratic reforms.
"We do look forward to the day when Cuba can join the OAS," she told a breakfast meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers. "But we believe that membership in the OAS must come with responsibilities and we owe it to each other to uphold our standards of democracy and governance that have brought so much progress to our hemisphere."
"It is not about reliving the past," Clinton said. "It is about the future of being true to the founding principles of this organization."
The United States is largely isolated within the OAS in demanding conditions. Top officials from members of the OAS have been nearly unanimous in calling for Cuba to be allowed to rejoin the 34-nation group without conditions.
Despite President Barack Obama's tentative overtures to Cuba, Clinton, who is attending the session, says any move to allow Cuba to rejoin the group must be accompanied by changes by its government.
Faced with a solid bloc of countries opposed to the conditions, U.S. officials are hoping to stall a vote on reversing Cuba's nearly 50-year-old suspension from the OAS without demands for change.
Clinton expressed hope that a "common way forward" could be found.
But the region's growing number of socialist leaders, spearheaded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and El Salvador President Mauricio Funes are pressing for a vote, and U.S. officials are unsure how the meeting will proceed.
Even though Cuba has expressed no interest in rejoining the bloc and the organization generally makes decision by consensus, proponents can push ahead with a resolution that needs only a two-thirds majority, or 23 votes, to pass.
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Tuesday that the group "has always agreed on main issues by consensus. I don't believe it would take away that tradition today because it has also been very useful."
"Only the foreign ministers can take a decision (on Cuba) now," he said.
Forcing a vote would put Clinton in a difficult position because regional and U.S. officials believe there are easily enough countries in favor. Diplomats have been scrambling to reach consensus on a compromise resolution but as of late Monday had been unable to do so.
The administration is toeing a delicate line as it reaches out to Cuban leader Raul Castro and by extension his ailing brother Fidel by lifting restrictions on money transfers and travel to the island by Americans with family there.
Cuba agreed over the weekend to a U.S. proposal to resume immigration talks with Washington that former President George W. Bush suspended in 2003 and to negotiations on restarting direct mail service between the two countries. It has also proposed exploring cooperation on counternarcotics and terrorism as well as on disaster preparedness.
But the Castros have repeatedly said they want a full lifting of the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba, something the administration has refused to consider without reforms. That stance has left the United States increasingly isolated.
Clinton is at Tuesday's meeting as the representative of the last country in the Western Hemisphere without full diplomatic ties with Cuba.
El Salvador had been the only other one, but in his first act as president, Funes on Monday restored his country's diplomatic relations with Cuba that had been broken in 1961.
The signing ceremony to commemorate that event was held in the same room at the presidential palace in San Salvador where Clinton and Funes later held their joint news conference.
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