Pope Francis, right, talks with Cuban President Raul Castro during a private audience at the Vatican on May 10, 2015. Cuban President Raul Castro arrived at the Vatican on Sunday to thank Pope Francis for his role in brokering the rapprochement between Havana and Washington. The first South American pope played a key role in secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba that led to the surprise announcement in December that they would seek to restore diplomatic ties after more than 50 years of tensions.
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Washington CNN —  

Senior officials from the United States and Cuba will resume meetings next week with the goal of finalizing the diplomatic thaw that both sides hope will lead to the re-opening of embassies in each country.

The talks, set to take place in Washington, come after President Barack Obama recommended Cuba be removed from the United States’ list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation that had stalled the formal renewal of diplomatic ties that began late last year.

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A senior administration official said the talks – led by top Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart Josefina Vidal – are meant to set the stage for the re-opening of embassies.

If those talks are successful – as officials believe they will be – the Obama administration is leaning toward naming the current head of the U.S. Interests Section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as ambassador to Cuba.

The official said the administration specifically tapped DeLaurentis for his position in Havana in 2014 because it was believed he had the skills to oversee the transition of the Interests Section into an embassy, understanding that the confirmation of a new ambassador to Cuba might be difficult in a Republican-led Senate.

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Obama made the recommendation to remove Cuba from the terror list in mid-April, and Congress has a 45 review period to potentially block the move.

While some lawmakers – including Cuban-American Republican Sen. Marco Rubio – have fiercely resisted Obama’s moves to restore ties with Havana, formal movement on blocking the terror list removal hasn’t yet been filed.

Once the 45-day period has passed, administration officials say the reopening of embassies could begin.

In Havana, the American embassy will likely occupy the same building where the Interests Section currently operates, White House aides have said. That’s the same structure, situated on the Havana waterfront, which housed the American embassy prior to the severing of diplomatic ties after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s.