The State Department is expected to recommend that Cuba be removed from the government’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, a U.S. official told CNN on Tuesday, a notorious designation that has been a stumbling block in the establishment of embassies in both Havana and Washington.
“Our expectation” is that Cuba will be removed from the list, the official said. But the official cautioned the Obama administration has yet to make any formal announcement. While that announcement from the State Department is not expected Tuesday, it could come as early as Wednesday.
On a conference call with reporters, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the State Department is “nearing its completion” of its review of the state sponsor of terrorism designation process. He did not rule out an announcement this week.
Cuba has raised the designation as a major objection in its talks with U.S. officials regarding normalizing relations between the two Cold War adversaries.
Once a recommendation is made by the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry would pass that along to President Barack Obama who has said he would act quickly.
If the President, as expected, accepts the State Department’s recommendation, Congress would have 45 days to decide whether to override the president’s decision. But lawmakers would need a veto-proof majority to do so.
The expected recommendation on state sponsor of terrorism designation comes as the President is set to attend a summit with other Latin American leaders in Panama later this week.
White House officials told reporters Tuesday Obama will likely “interact” with Cuban President Raul Castro “on the margins” of the Summit of the Americas.
A White House official declined to comment on the State Department’s expected recommendation.
“It’s premature to speculate,” a White House official said. “The recommendation has not been received by the president.”
Cuba is on this list along with only three other countries – Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
A U.S. official noted President George W. Bush’s administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008.
“They are much worse than Cuba,” the official said of the North Koreans.
As for Cuba’s placement on the list, the official added “most people (in the administration) feel like that’s a relic.”
The U.S. official said that the administration remains concerned about Cuba’s record on human rights.
“There’s a lot of things we don’t like,” the official added.
It’s an open question whether Republicans in Congress will seek to block the White House over the designation issue.
Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, one of a handful of lawmakers who worked on the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from Cuba last December, believes GOP leaders will ultimately decide they have their hands full with other pressing matters.
“I don’t think that will be the battle the opposition picks,” Van Hollen said.
The Communist island’s placement on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism remains a critical issue for Cuban-American members of Congress.
Last month, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to object to Cuba’s removal from the list.
“The United States cannot in good faith remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List while the Castro regime harbors terrorists who have killed Americans, actively supports designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations by harboring their members and continues to flout international law through clandestine weapon transfers with a rogue regime like North Korea,” Rubio wrote in the letter.
Van Hollen said it will “take some time” for the U.S. and Cuba to resolve all of their long standing issues. But the Maryland Democrat argued the facts show Cuba no longer belongs on the terror list.
“All of the evidence indicates that Cuba should not be on that list,” Van Hollen added.