REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama told Congress on Tuesday that he plans to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, removing a major obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies.
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Obama's decision follows a hemispheric summit in Panama where Obama and Cuban President Fidel Castro sat down on Saturday for the first meeting of its kind between U.S. and Cuban leaders in nearly 60 years.
Cuba's communist government had demanded removal from the U.S. blacklist to move forward on efforts to normalize relations between the two former Cold War foes. Obama ordered a review of Cuba's presence on the list after he and Castro announced a diplomatic breakthrough on December 17.
"After a careful review of Cuba's record, which was informed by the intelligence community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government, the Secretary of State concluded that Cuba met the conditions for rescinding its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism," the White House said in a statement.
Obama's decision was submitted to Congress for a further 45-day review, but lawmakers are extremely unlikely to block the move.
There had been some expectations that Obama would announce his intention to remove the terrorism designation and move forward on restoring diplomatic relations at the summit.
But U.S. officials held off and privately made clear that they sought to time the move as leverage in broader normalization negotiations.
Cuba's removal from the list will remove certain economic sanctions on the island, but the broader U.S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place because only Congress can end it.
"We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism," the White House said.
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. But Cuba's presence on the list has been questioned in recent years.