During the April 27, 2009, Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State, spokesman Robert Wood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs , took questions from reporters about U.S.-Cuba relations, among other things. U. S. and Cuban diplomats held talks on April 27. The first meeting between Cuban diplomats and U.S. diplomats representing the Obama Administration took place on April 14, 2009. Below are questions State Department correspondents posed about Cuba:
MR. WOOD: Okay, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. Happy Monday. I don’t have anything, so we can go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Cuba and the meeting today with the Cuban representative? And could you give a little detail on how often this happens, who initiates it, and what the purpose is?
MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Bob, over the years we have had periodic contact with representatives of the Cuban Interests Section. And this afternoon, Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon is going to meet with the head of the Cuba Interests Section for a meeting at a mutually convenient location. I think the last time they met was April 13 here at the State Department building.
QUESTION: This year?
MR. WOOD: Yes. I believe --
QUESTION: At what level?
MR. WOOD: This was, I think, Assistant Secretary Shannon and the head of the Cuban Interests Section. And so these meetings happen periodically, and as I said, there’s going to be one tonight.
QUESTION: Should it be seen as an effort by the Administration to expand communication with the Cubans in the – as a follow-up to the actions the President has taken?
MR. WOOD: As I said, this is one of, you know, a number of meetings that have taken place, you know, over the years with representatives of the Cuban Interests Section. So I’m not trying to make more or less of it. I’m just, you know, giving you the facts as they are.
QUESTION: So it’s not an expansion of communication as a part of a plan to --
MR. WOOD: Well, I think, the President has spoken and has, as you know, made it easier for, you know, Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba and has also taken action on remittances. So those are steps that the President has taken to further engage the Cuban people. And we will have to see what else comes in the future. But an important thing is is that we have some very serious concerns about the lack of democracy in Cuba, and we want to see steps taken to improve the situation there. But I don’t have anything more than what I’ve just outlined in terms of --
QUESTION: And just one more follow-up. Sorry. Is it still the Administration’s position that you would not take additional steps beyond those the President recently announced until the Cubans reciprocate in some form?
MR. WOOD: Well, we want to see the Cuban Government reciprocate. We’d like to see a release of political prisoners. There are host of steps that the Cuban Government can take and we’d like to see. I’m not going to put conditionality on things. But clearly, you know, there are some steps that the Cuban Government needs to do with regard to its own people, allowing the Cuban people to have some of the freedoms that are enjoyed in other countries in the hemisphere.
QUESTION: So are you – in this particular meeting today, are you going with a list of just – a list of things that you think they need to do before you can go further than the President went?
MR. WOOD: Well, they’re going to have a meeting. Again, as I said, representatives from the State Department have had discussions with representatives of the Cuban Interests Section before to follow up on issues. I’m sure that in the course of the conversation that Assistant Secretary Shannon has with the head of the Cuban Interests Section, they’ll touch on some of the issues of concern that we have. But I’m not going to get – there’s no list prepared that we’re going into the meeting with. We have concerns about Cuban policies. We’ll be raising them. You know, I’m sure that there will be a discussion of the President’s steps that he announced recently. But beyond that, I don’t have much of an agenda.
QUESTION: But are you looking for a more definitive explanation or response from the Cuban Government over the President’s, you know, overtures? Is that what you’re looking for?
MR. WOOD: No. I think what we’re looking for – again, our overall policy objective is to improve the political situation in Cuba for the Cuban people. And the steps the President took recently are in line with that policy: to try to promote more democracy in Cuba. And that’s going to be the nexus of our policy going forward. We’re certainly willing to engage, but there need to be reciprocal steps. And these are not – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: No, go on.
MR. WOOD: No, no.
QUESTION: No, no. (Laughter.) You were just getting to the good part, so please go on.
MR. WOOD: All you want is the good part? No, you go ahead and finish.
QUESTION: On the reciprocal steps --
MR. WOOD: Yeah, what was --
QUESTION: On the reciprocal steps, what are you hoping? Are you laying out sort of a timetable of the kind of steps --
MR. WOOD: We’re not laying out a timetable or anything like that at this point. What we’d like to see are some steps to give the Cuban people some of the freedoms that are enjoyed by other peoples in the hemisphere, as I just mentioned in response to Bob’s question. So we’ll just have to see how the Cuban Government decides to respond.
QUESTION: And where are they meeting? You said it’s a mutually agreeable place or whatever? Where is it? Is this in a restaurant, a meeting --
MR. WOOD: A mutually convenient location.
QUESTION: Is it in a restaurant, under a cherry blossom tree? I mean, where is it? (Laughter.)
MR. WOOD: At a mutually convenient location.
QUESTION: Robert, I’m trying to get a better sense of the frequency of these meetings. You said that the last one was April 13th. I don’t think it would be fair to assume that these happen every two or three weeks. Could you give us a sense if this is – how frequently, you know, these happen, especially before this – the recent overtures from the Administration?
MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, they’ve happened over time. They’re more – they’re basically driven by issues and our interests. I don’t have a – you know, I can’t give you a schedule of when these meetings took place. I gave you the most recent. But they happen when we have issues that we need to raise with the Cuban Government and if, you know, the Interests Section has some issues that they need to raise with us. But there’s no pattern here. It’s when we feel it’s appropriate or they request a meeting when they happen.
QUESTION: Well, was the April 13th meeting the first one during the Obama Administration?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I can’t rule that out. I’m not sure. I mean, we have lots of --
STAFF: Yes, it was.
MR. WOOD: Oh, it was? Okay, it was the first.
QUESTION: What was the answer?
MR. WOOD: Yes, that was the first meeting during the Obama Administration with representatives of the Cuban Interests --
QUESTION: And that was requested by which side?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have those details.
QUESTION: And then do you have any sort of sense of the frequency under the previous administration?
MR. WOOD: I don’t have that.