President Barack Obama recommended Tuesday that Cuba be removed from the U.S. government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Long sought by the Cuban government, Obama’s decision, expected for weeks now, will likely expedite plans to re-establish embassies in both Washington and Havana.
In a brief message to notify Congress of his recommendation, Obama explained his action was based on specific criteria that warranted Cuba’s removal from the list.
“The government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period; and the government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future,” the President said in the message.
Obama’s move drew criticism from Republican contenders in the 2016 presidential race.
“We’re not a step closer to freedom in Cuba because of the steps the president is taking,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters after an event in Ohio.
But Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said it’s wise to remove Cuba because “that list ought to mean something,” and that it could help diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“I know [Republicans] don’t agree with me on this issue, but I think it was the right move to make and I’m glad the president did it,” he said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
Cuba was placed on the state sponsors of terrorism list in 1982 when Havana was busy supporting armed insurgencies in Latin America, during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Last December, Obama announced his intent to normalize relations with Cuba, insisting that previous U.S. efforts had failed to topple the governments of Fidel and Raul Castro through diplomatic isolation. Instead, the President argued a new approach of engagement was needed to ease tensions between Washington and Havana.
Almost as soon as the new discussions began, however, Cuban officials complained their nation’s placement on the list of state sponsors of terrorism was unfair and outdated.
Last week, the State Department recommended to Obama that Cuba be removed from the list, concluding Havana was no longer a sponsor of terrorist activities abroad.
“Circumstances have changed since 1982, when Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on the President’s decision.
“Our Hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago,” Kerry added.
The most dramatic sign of the improved U.S.-Cuban relationship came last Saturday, when Obama and Raul Castro sat down for an hour long discussion on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama. It was the first such meeting between U.S. and Cuban leaders since 1959.
Congress has 45 days to pass a joint resolution blocking the President’s decision. But a senior administration official said it was unlikely lawmakers would be able muster the votes needed to override a presidential veto.