4 Questions for Roberta Jacobson, the Lead US Negotiator in Cuba

The lead US negotiator in Cuba tells ABC News about this week's historic talks.

ByABC News
January 23, 2015, 5:29 PM

— -- History was made this week when for the first time in nearly 40 years American and Cuban diplomats sat face to face in Havana to talk about restoring their relationship – one that has been virtually non-existent since the U.S. trade embargo was established 1960.

In an interview with ABC’s Serena Marshall, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who led the talks for the U.S., said this first round of talks were all about getting to know what each side wanted.


The most glaring point of contention between Communist Cuba and Washington concerns human rights. Jacobson suggested it’s an issue on which the two sides may never totally agree.

“When we talk about profound differences on human rights I don’t know that I see that as an issue that gets fixed, certainly not in the near term,” Jacobson said. “We have no illusions about this government. We would certainly like to see a major improvement in human rights, but we don’t necessarily expect that will happen right away.”

Cuba like many foreign adversaries, has suggested the U.S. ought to examine its own human rights record before making demands on others. Most recently Cuban officials have cited the police shooting death of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, as an example.

“Yes they have posed criticisms of our system, but obviously we believe that our system allows for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and all sorts of things that are not allowed here in Cuba,” Jacobson said.


High on the list of Cuban demands is to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. They also have said that before reopening a US embassy in Havana, the US needs to provide a way for the Cuban interest section in Washington, D.C., to make routine financial transactions. Right now they are unable to use credit or deal with US banks as a result of the embargo. Cuba has also called for an end to the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy – a product of the Clinton administration. Cuba says the policy encourages its citizens to flee to the United States. It’s called “wet-foot, dry-foot,” because Cubans caught at sea while attempting to immigrate illegally are sent home, while Cubans caught on U.S. soil are given a chance to stay in the U.S.


The negotiations have faced criticism from within the U.S. Opponents to the Obama administration see the talks as a way of rewarding Cuba, despite bad behavior.

“This is not a gift, this is not some type of a concession,” Jacobson said. “This is how we advance our interests. This is how we hope to advance the interests of the Cuban people.”


So far the only agreement is that the two parties will meet again.

“Yesterday’s talks were as we expected, which was to get many issues out on the table, but really not to resolve any of them,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the U.S. extended an invitation for the Cubans to visit Washington, D.C., for the next round of talks, which she hopes will occur in the coming weeks. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week his goal is to visit Cuba soon and to open a U.S. embassy there if the talks go well.