Exclusive: U.S. pressing Cuba to restore diplomatic ties before April - officials

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Exclusive: U.S. pressing Cuba to restore diplomatic ties before April - officials
A woman sits in a private collective taxi, decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags, in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 9 2015. President Barack Obama signaled Thursday he will soon remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, boosting hopes for improved ties as he prepared for a historic encounter with Cuban President Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
US President Barack Obama and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller during their bilateral meeting at the Jamaica House, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Kingston, Jamaica. The president said Thursday that he soon decide whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism now that the State Department has finished a review on the question as part of the move to reopen diplomatic relations with the island nation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Women, one wearing pants made with the U.S flag colors, work at their stalls selling flowers in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 9, 2015. President Barack Obama signaled Thursday he will soon remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, boosting hopes for improved ties as he prepared for a historic encounter with Cuban President Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama. .(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting at the University of the West Indies, Thursday, April 9, 2015 in Kingston, Jamaica. The president said that he will soon decide whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism now that the State Department has finished a review on the question as part of the move to reopen diplomatic relations with the island nation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
A man works at a bean stall at a market beside a mural with the a picture of revolution hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 9, 2015. President Barack Obama signaled Thursday he will soon remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, boosting hopes for improved ties as he prepared for a historic encounter with Cuban President Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama. .(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
A man shouts slogans against Cuban pro-government supporters outside the Vasco Nunes De Balboa Convention Center in Panama City, Wednesday, April 8, 2015. About 100 supporters of Cuba's government aggressively heckled dissidents from the communist-run island attending a civil society forum Wednesday at the start of the Summit of the Americas in Panama. (AP Photo/Cubadebate, Ismael Francisco)
U.S. President Barack Obama stops to greet members of the audience during a town hall meeting at the University of the West Indies, Thursday, April 9, 2015 in Kingston, Jamaica. The president said that he will soon decide whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism now that the State Department has finished a review on the question as part of the move to reopen diplomatic relations with the island nation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Magnets for sale decorate a tourist shop, one showing an image of U.S. President Barack Obama smelling a cigar, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 16, 2015. The magnet in the bottom row, second from left, reads in Spanish: "Here, nobody gives up," a popular quote attributed to Cuba's late revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos. Magnets to the right show Cuba's revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A sugar cane worker rests at the end of his lunch break under a mural of Cuba's late revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara at the steam plant that's part of the 30 November Sugar Center, after a visit by U.S. agricultural representatives and political figures from farming states in Artemisa, Cuba, Tuesday, March 3, 2015. After President Barack Obama's Dec. 2014 announcement that he was loosening the embargo on Cuba, change appears likely to come fastest in agriculture. The mural at left reads in Spanish "Our best effort, the fulfillment of duty," and the sign at right shows the name of the steam plant, coined "Fighting roosters." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The U.S. State Department official leading negotiations with the Cuban government said on Wednesday (February 04) the return of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is not being considered in those talks. "The issue of Guantanamo is not on the table in these conversations," Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified during a House of Representatives hearing.
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. When the leaders of the U.S. and Cuba had their first phone conversation in more than 50 years, they were not at a loss for words. As President Barack Obama told the story at his news conference Friday, he opened his call with Cuban President Raul Castro _ brother of famously longwinded Fidel _ with a 15-minute monologue, then apologized for taking so much time. "He said, 'Don't worry about it, Mr. President,’” Obama related. “’You're still a young man, and you have still the chance to break Fidel's record. He once spoke seven hours straight." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Cuba's President Raul Castro, front, smiles during a twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. After the Wednesday announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, Castro said he still wants an end to the trade embargo that has choked off commerce to the island and has kept generations of Americans from being able to visit. At right is Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)
Two women embrace while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
ALTERNATIVE CROP OF XRE102 - Cuba's President Raul Castro smiles during a twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. After the Wednesday announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, Castro said he still wants an end to the trade embargo that has choked off commerce to the island and has kept generations of Americans from being able to visit. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)
People line up to take the bus outside the Capitolio in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. How does one end almost 54 years of hostility toward a next-door neighbor? That’s about to become clear as the Obama administration and the communist government of Raul Castro move to normalize more than a half-century of bitter animosity between the United States and Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Lawmakers attend a twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. After the Wednesday announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, President Raul Castro said he still wants an end to the trade embargo that has choked off commerce to the island and has kept generations of Americans from being able to visit. (AP Photo/Ladyrene Perez, Cubadebate)
Cuba's President Raul Castro waves during a twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. After the Wednesday announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, Castro said he still wants an end to the trade embargo that has choked off commerce to the island and has kept generations of Americans from being able to visit. At right is Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel. (AP Photo/Lady Rene Perez, Cubadebate)
A woman holds a Cuban flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island nation and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
A man waves a Cuban flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island nation and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
A woman holds a Cuban flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island nation and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
People embrace while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, outside of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
A woman holds a Cuban and a Chilean flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island nation and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
Cuban citizens living in Chile, hold a Cuban flag while celebrating the restoration of diplomatic relations between the island nation and the United States, in the courtyard of the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke as Cuban President Raul Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
Students and teachers celebrate after listening to a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, at a school in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Taxi drivers wait for clients next to their classic American cars in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. How does one end almost 54 years of hostility toward a next-door neighbor? That’s about to become clear as the Obama administration and the communist government of Raul Castro move to normalize more than a half-century of bitter animosity between the United States and Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This screen shot taken from live video from the TN channel shows President Barack Obama, right, and Cuba's President Raul Castro addressing their nations at the same time, from Washington D.C. and Havana, on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as well as an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba Wednesday, declaring an end to America's "outdated approach" to the island in a historic shift that aims to bring an end to a half-century of Cold War enmity. Castro welcomed restoration of diplomatic ties, saying the two countries would work to resolve their differences "without renouncing a single one of our principles." (AP Photo)
Construction workers speculate what Cuba's President Raul Castro will announce in an upcoming live, nationally broadcast speech in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro spoke about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, saying that profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Students watch a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, on a TV at school in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Teachers and students listen to a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, at a school in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Jorge L. Garcia Perez, who is known as Antunez, with the Cuban National Civic Resistance Front, reads a statement during a news conference surrounded by representatives of Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 in Doral, Fla. President Barack Obama secretly arranged prisoner exchanges with Cuban leader Raul Castro as part of an effort to normalize relations. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Sylvia Iriondo, with Mothers Against Repression, makes a fist as she speaks during a news conference along with representatives of Assembly of the Cuban Resistance and the Cuban National Civic Resistance Front, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 in Doral, Fla. President Barack Obama secretly arranged prisoner exchanges with Cuban leader Raul Castro as part of an effort to normalize relations. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Sylvia Iriondo, with Mothers Against Repression, speaks during a news conference along with representatives of Assembly of the Cuban Resistance and the Cuban National Civic Resistance Front, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 in Doral, Fla. President Barack Obama secretly arranged prisoner exchanges with Cuban leader Raul Castro as part of an effort to normalize relations. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Marlene Alejandre-Triana, center, fights back tears as speaks while her aunts Maggie Alejandre-Khuly, left, and Ana Alejandre Ciresco, right, look on during a news conference, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 in Coral Gables, Fla., after President Barack Obama announced that he had secretly arranged prisoner exchanges with Cuban leader Raul Castro as part of an effort to normalize relations. Alejandre-Triana's father Armando Alejandre, the brother of Alejandre Ciresco and Alejandre-Khuly, was one of four victims of the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shot down by the Cuban military. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., second from left, comforts Miriam de la Pena during a news conference, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 in Coral Gables, Fla., after President Barack Obama announced that he had secretly arranged prisoner exchanges with Cuban leader Raul Castro as part of an effort to normalize relations. De la Pena's son Mario de la Pena was one of four victims of the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shot down by the Cuban military. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stands near a poster with pictures of those lost from the group called 'Brothers to the Rescue' when they were shot down by Cuban fighter jets in 1996, as he and other congressional people addressed the decision by President Barack Obama to change the United States Cuba policy on December 18, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Rubio was joined by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) as they held the press conference to denounce the changes to U.S.-Cuba policy by the Obama administration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) greets Mirta Costa the mother of Carlos Costa, a pilot from a group called 'Brothers to the Rescue' who was shot down by Cuban fighter jets in 1996, as he and other congressional people addressed the decision by President Barack Obama to change the United States Cuba policy on December 18, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Rubio was joined by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) (in the Center of photo) and Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) as they held the press conference to denounce the changes to U.S.-Cuba policy by the Obama administration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 18: Osvaldo Hernandez holds a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama as he denouces to a television crew the president's effort to change the Cuban policy on December 18, 2014 in Miami, Florida. A day after U.S. President Barack Obama announced he wants to normalize relations with Cuba, the Miami Cuban community has a mixed reaction with some supporting and other opposing the new policy. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 19: People wait in line to check luggage at the ABC Charters American Airlines flight to Havana, Cuba at Miami International Airport on December 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama announced a relaxation in the Cuban policy which may mean more travel between the United States and Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - DECEMBER 18: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) U.S. visa applicants queue outside the U.S. Interests Section a day after U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterpart Raul Castro announced to restore the diplomatic relationship, on December 18, 2014 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 19: A sign indicates the ABC Charters American Airlines flight to Havana, Cuba at Miami International Airport on December 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama announced a relaxation in the Cuban policy which may mean more travel between the United States and Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 19: People wait in line to check luggage at the ABC Charters American Airlines flight to Havana, Cuba at Miami International Airport on December 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama announced a relaxation in the Cuban policy which may mean more travel between the United States and Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama faced questions on various topics including the changing of Cuba policy, the U.S. economy and the Sony hack. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 19: People wait in line to check luggage at the ABC Charters American Airlines flight to Havana, Cuba at Miami International Airport on December 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida. U.S. President Barack Obama announced a relaxation in the Cuban policy which may mean more travel between the United States and Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Cubans wait near the US Interest Office in Havana to apply for visas, on December 19, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Yamil LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite the Communist island's demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A refusal by Cuba to allow the United States to quickly establish an official embassy for the first time in half a century could complicate talks between the Cold War foes, reflecting enduring mistrust as they move to end decades of confrontation.

Striking Cuba from the terrorism list could take until June or longer, although the White House is pushing officials to move quickly, said two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the State Department's review to take Cuba off the list.

Washington is eager to re-establish diplomatic ties before a regional summit in Panama in April, when President Barack Obama will meet Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since 2013, the officials said.

The two leaders announced a historic deal on Dec. 17 to restore relations. U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet this month or in early March in Washington for a second round of talks.

While renewing diplomatic relations could happen quickly, the process to normalize, including removing the U.S. trade embargo, will take far longer.

Cuba has not made removal from the list a condition for restoring ties, U.S. officials said. But Havana made clear during the first round of talks last month that it first wants to be removed from the terrorism list.

GETTING OFF THE LIST

For Cuba, which considers its designation an injustice, getting removed from the list would be a long-coveted propaganda victory at home and abroad.

Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro's training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.

But Cuba's presence on the list has been questioned in recent years. The State Department's latest annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" says Cuba has long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia's left-wing FARC guerrillas.

But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm. And the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host.

Even the State Department acknowledged in its report that Cuba has made progress. "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups," it said.

Cuba raised this issue before January's talks in Havana. A senior official from Cuba's foreign ministry told reporters on Jan. 20 that it was "unfair" to keep Cuba on the State Department's list.

"We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It doesn't make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list)."

It is rare, though not unheard of, for the United States to remove entities or countries from its list of terrorist supporters. One entity which was removed following a lengthy and intense lobbying campaign was the Mujahiddin e Khalq, a controversial and cult-like Iranian group.

The designation also comes with economic sanctions, and can result in fines for companies that do business with countries on the list, such as a record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for doing business with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

As part of the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba, the White House ordered a State Department review of Cuba's listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. officials said.

A U.S. national security official said intelligence agencies were under pressure from senior Obama administration officials to complete their role in the removal process by March.

"The process is under way," said the official.

To finalize Cuba's removal, Obama would need to submit to Congress a report stating Havana had not supported terrorism-related activities for six months, and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future. Cuba would be automatically dropped from the list 45 days later.

Getting the embassy open is also tricky.

Converting the six-story U.S. interests sections in Havana into a full-fledged embassy after 53 years would require ending restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, limits on diplomats' movements and appointing an ambassador. It would allow the U.S. to renovate the building and have U.S. security posted around the building, replacing Cuban police.

Cuba also wants the United States to scale back its support for Cuban dissidents when the sides meet again. U.S. administration officials have stood firm both publicly and privately that they intend to keep supporting the dissidents.

"I can't imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship with an agreement not to see democracy activists," U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson told a hearing chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal Republican opponent of Obama's new Cuba policy.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball. Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

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