US 'optimistic' about upcoming normalization talks with Cuba

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Washington (CNN)The U.S. delegation is "optimistic" going into the fourth round of normalization talks with Cuba, which are set to begin Thursday in Washington.

"We've clearly gotten closer and worked our way to fewer items on the checklist," a senior State Department official told reporters during a conference call Tuesday.
Furthermore, the official said Cuba has finally found a bank that will allow its personnel to engage in financial transactions in the U.S. The difficulty in identifying such an institution has been a major obstacle to reconciling ties between the two countries.
The official would not name the bank but said an announcement would be coming soon from the Cubans.
    The official also described a renewed sense of commitment from the Cuban delegation since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met in Panama in April.
    "It was very helpful to have the two leaders meet," the official said.
    Cuban officials seem to share this sense of optimism.
    On Monday, Gustavo Machín, the deputy director of USA affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told reporters this could be "the last round" of negotiations as the two sides are reaching consensus on key issues.
    Separate from the banking issue, Cuba has been calling on the U.S. to remove it from a list of countries that support terrorism. That removal is expected to go forward at the end of this month.
    Nevertheless, issues between the two sides remain. For one thing, Cuba has voiced concerns about U.S pro-democracy programs.
    It comes as "no surprise" that the Cuban government doesn't like these programs, the official said, but argued that direct engagement with these groups is a way to more effectively support the Cuban people.
    The official was also asked to respond to comments by Castro stating that while the countries' embassies may be reopened in the near term, full normalization of relations cannot be achieved until Guantanamo Bay is returned to Cuba and the U.S. economic embargo is lifted.
    Guantanamo Bay's status "is not on the table at this point," the official said, but the U.S. does hope to end the embargo and considers that a key part of long-term diplomatic normalization.
    Obama must notify Congress of his intention to reopen the U.S. embassy in Cuba 15 days before it can officially be converted from an interest section to an embassy.
    Pope meets Raul Castro, plans a Cuba visit
    Pope Francis  (R) 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. AFP PHOTO/POOL/GREGORIO BORGIA        (Photo credit should read GREGORIO BORGIA/AFP/Getty Images)

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