Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
May 29, 2015
So with that, over to you, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, somewhat related to the trip, can you – where was the Secretary when he signed the Cuba rescission? Was he in Abuja? Was he on the plane?
MR RATHKE: I don’t have a breakdown of precisely where he was when he signed the papers related to it.
QUESTION: He certainly wasn’t here, was he? He didn’t sign it until today, and they left yesterday.
MR RATHKE: Again, I don’t have a breakdown of precisely where he was when he signed the papers. But –
QUESTION: Forget about precisely where he was. He wasn’t in the United States, right?
MR RATHKE: Well –
QUESTION: I don’t think it makes any difference. I’m just curious.
MR RATHKE: I mean he left yesterday, so –
QUESTION: Can you check when he signed it and where he signed it?
MR RATHKE: I’m not sure we’re going to get into that level of detail. I mean, you’ve seen the note we put out.
MR RATHKE: The rescission, the lifting of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror –
QUESTION: If you’re going to tell is it’s a state secret where he was when he signed, let us know, but I don’t see why it would be an issue. It’s just a detail that might be nice to have. On –
MR RATHKE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: In terms of the rescission –
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- can you let us know – tell us where that leaves things now in terms of the normalization process and whether it has any impact on the timing of reopening of embassies or even of the next round of talks, if there needs to be one?
MR RATHKE: All right. Let me just – I’m sure many have seen, but just to point out that we’ve issued this morning a statement about the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. It takes – it is effective today, May 29, 2015. And this reflects our assessment after undertaking the review that was requested by the President our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission.
Now, Matt, your question was about the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations. I would point out first of all that the United States sees these as separate processes. The review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror was instructed by the President, and we have had a separate process of discussions with the Cuban Government about re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. So we see these as separate.
I would also go back to last Friday’s discussions with the Cuban Government and the comments made by our assistant secretary after those were done that we are close but we have not concluded those discussions yet; we’ve gotten closer each time. With respect to whether a further round is necessary, I think the assistant secretary addressed that as well, and she said that it might be possible to deal with the remaining issues through our interest sections. So we’ll see if that’s possible or whether an additional round is necessary, but we still have some gaps that we have to close.
QUESTION: Okay. So I mean, can you say if – you say you’re close, but does that mean Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next week? I mean are we talking about something that could conceivably be done in a couple of days, or is it going to take something – is it going to take more than that?
MR RATHKE: Well, it’s hard to put – hard to put a timeline on it. Again, we’ve gotten closer each time. I think the fact that the assistant secretary said it might be possible to deal with this through diplomatic channels also should indicate that we may be able to resolve, but I don’t want to put a timeline on it.
QUESTION: And then I’m just going to say – but you’re saying that – you’re saying you see these as separate issues, so the normalization and the list. Does that mean that it has no – that what happened today has no impact as far as you’re concerned on the discussions to normalize?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think the Cuban Government has spoken to their own view about this, and I’ll let them speak for themselves about it.
QUESTION: All right.
MR RATHKE: But again, we’ve said consistently and it remains our view that these are separate processes. This decision was based on the facts and a thorough review, which the President ordered and which the State Department carried out in consultation with others.
QUESTION: Right. But the problem is is that the President ordered the review on the same day and in the same statement, and I believe it may be in the same paragraph, possibly even in the same sentence as the statement that said that you were going to normalize relations. So I’m not sure exactly why you – why you insist that it’s a separate thing when it was announced all at the same time.
MR RATHKE: Well, because the reason we see it as separate is because it’s not a subject of negotiation; it is a determination based on the facts and evidence that the State Department has carried out in conjunction with other interagency partners. And we’ve reached the conclusion which was communicated by the State Department to the White House, and the White House then to the Congress for the 45-day period that – the certification that Cuba had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months; that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. And all of this meets the requirements of the law, so that’s why we see these as separate.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that this review wouldn’t have happened or could have happened without the President’s decision to move toward normalizing relations?
MR RATHKE: Well, the President instructed us to carry out the review.
QUESTION: I understand that you’re saying that they’re separate. So this review could have happened without a decision to normalize relations, right?
MR RATHKE: Well, in principle, yes. But --
QUESTION: Okay. Yes? So why didn’t it?
MR RATHKE: Well, I think --
QUESTION: Why --
MR RATHKE: I think also, as you and I have --
QUESTION: Why did it not happen two or three years ago? Why did – the problem is you’re trying to say that this is not a political – it’s all – it’s not linked. But it clearly is linked and it clearly, at least arguably, could have been done much earlier if it is separate from the whole decision to normalize.
MR RATHKE: Well, I’d put this in a bigger context, because I remember, Matt, at the time we also had a discussion about this. I think there are a couple things that are – that matter here, too. One, first of all, I’m not going to – the President spoke as to the reasons for the new policy direction. I’m not going to analyze or parse them further. I think they’re pretty clear.
Now as to the question of why it was not done at some other time, we have had in the course of our diplomatic discussions with Cuba since both presidents announced this new policy the opportunity to talk about, separate from the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, but we have had through the intensified diplomatic exchanges the opportunity to talk about and to obtain the assurances that have gone into our ability to meet the standards in the law and certify that Cuba should not be on the list of state sponsors of terror. So that’s been an essential part of being able to do the work that’s required under the law.
QUESTION: Jeff, what – independent of the normalization, I just have a very, very quick question. What could the United States and Cuba do today as a result of this rescission that they could not do yesterday?
MR RATHKE: If I could, one – just one terminological point. The word “normalization” I think is something we see as a long-term process.
MR RATHKE: We see normalization as a different thing than the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies. Normalization is a longer-term process. It involves many other things. So I just want to say we would use the term “re-establishing diplomatic relations.”
QUESTION: Okay. So what is different today from yesterday? What can they do together that they could not do yesterday as a result of this?
MR RATHKE: Well, the law – the state sponsor of terrorism designation is part of – it springs from U.S. law and the relevant statutes govern then the effect of it. There are a number of laws, including the Export Administration Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, and the Arms Export Control Act; and when a state is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, it triggers a range of sanctions and restrictions under those statutes. So rescinding the designation is an important step, and then it has certain – it would then involve the removal of restrictions that would come under that – under those laws.
QUESTION: What is the value of this designation --
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Yeah, go ahead.
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I mean, let’s – can you be more explicit, because I think there is the understanding within the U.S. Government about what this explicitly means? The four main effects of being on the state sponsors of terrorism list included a ban on U.S. arms exports, controls on dual-use items, a prohibition of U.S. economic aid, and automatic U.S. opposition to loans to Cuba by international financial organizations like the IMF or the World Bank.
MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Correct? Just for the transcript?
MR RATHKE: Yeah, there are four categories. Yeah, those are the four. I think we would --
MR RATHKE: -- maybe use slightly different words, but --
QUESTION: Okay, yeah.
MR RATHKE: -- basically, yes.
QUESTION: Good. Okay. Second, the way it’s been explained to me, but I think it would be useful for the purposes of the briefing so other people can understand this, what I was told is that even though in theory those restrictions are lifted under the State Sponsors of Terrorism Act, because of overlapping other U.S. laws, the – and I’m going to read it so I don’t get it wrong: “As a practical matter, most restrictions related to exports and foreign aid will remain due to the comprehensive trade and arms embargo imposed by Congress.”
Can you say on the record that that is indeed the case, that most of the restrictions related to exports and foreign aid stay in place because of other law?
MR RATHKE: Okay. So your question has a few parts, and it’s similar to Said’s question, but has additional detail. So let me go through --
MR RATHKE: -- each of those. So rescinding of the designation against Cuba is an important step. Let me highlight, though, that the embargo, which is a separate matter and which is to a large degree a statutory matter – that is, legislation – that remains in effect. So the lifting of the state sponsor of terrorism designation does not lift the embargo, just to put that kind of bluntly. And I would also point that in addition to the state sponsor of terrorism designation, there is a web of restrictions and sanctions that have been applied over the years, and some of them are unrelated to the state sponsor of terrorism designation.
Now, in the four categories you mentioned, there is – for example, the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of Treasury has the Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulations – a long one – and that – so Cuba would be lifted from that list. That list prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in certain financial transactions with the governments of countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism. So that will no longer apply to Cuba. However, there is also separately – there are the Cuban assets control regulations. And those will continue to prohibit most transactions involving Cuba or a Cuban national, including transactions with the Government of Cuba. For more detail on that, I would refer you to the Department of Treasury since it’s the OFAC’s responsibility.
The second one, when you talk about foreign assistance, Cuba will – would no – there’s a section of the Foreign Assistance Act – Section 620A if you’re interested – so Cuba would no longer be disqualified from foreign assistance under that section of the act. However, there are numerous other restrictions in the Foreign Assistance Act and in other statutes that will continue to restrict foreign assistance to Cuba.
Third, the Export Administration Act. The State Department will no longer be required by the Export Administration Act to notify Congress 30 days before granting a license for the export of certain dual-use goods and technology. However, Cuba remains subject to a comprehensive embargo. So the export and re-export of such items to Cuba would continue to be prohibited under the export administration regulations without a license, or unless a license exception applies. I think my colleagues at the Department of Commerce would have more detail in that respect.
And you asked about the international financial --
MR RATHKE: -- institutions. The restriction on U.S. – on the U.S. position on loans for international financial institutions would remain because there are still several legislative provisions beyond the state sponsor of terrorism designation governing U.S. support for Cuba’s membership in the international financial institutions and their provisions of assistance to Cuba. The Libertad Act is one example, among others, of legislative provisions that govern the IFI regulations. Again, my Department of Treasury colleagues would have more detail on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. No, that’s all very helpful, and I think it’s useful that you put that on the record. The one thing that you didn’t put on the record, but that I think would be useful to have on the record, is that as a practical matter, most of the restrictions related to exports, related to foreign aid, and as you now just confirmed, related to loans from international financial institutions to Cuba all remain in effect.
MR RATHKE: Well, as – again, I don’t want to sum those up. Those are a lot of – those are four very – four diverse aspects of the law. I’ve tried to explain the restrictions that would still apply. But again, there are other aspects, including reputational ones and so forth that – and so the listing as a state sponsor of terrorism would have implications of that sort as well.
QUESTION: Can you take that question, whether you can characterize generally whether it is indeed the case that most of the foreign aid and export restrictions remain in place because of other laws? There is a reason I’m asking this. I think people deserve to have some kind of understanding of what this means broadly. And I think this is not a question that should surprise you guys since it came up in the background briefing on April the 14th when this issue came up.
So if you would take that question about whether you can give a more general description, I think that would be useful so that people understand what are actually the implications of this decision. The way I understand it, it’s – it would seem to be mostly symbolic rather than practical, because the overlapping sanctions essentially mean that pretty much all the restrictions that would be lifted are still there under other statutes.
MR RATHKE: Well, as I said, there is a web of restrictions out there, so this is one part of that. So naturally, the others – I’m happy to look and see --
QUESTION: Will you take it?
MR RATHKE: -- if we’re able to say it in a more --
QUESTION: In simpler language.
MR RATHKE: I’m happy to --
MR RATHKE: -- ask about that. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just a couple points on Cuba here. Since obviously there were some on Capitol Hill who wanted to continue the terrorism restrictions here, but they didn’t act in 45 days – I mean, is there anything that you ascribe that to? Did they just see the light up here on Capitol Hill or what?
MR RATHKE: I’d refer you back to Congress for their – for the reasons they’ve taken actions or not taken actions. I don’t really – I think we’ve been confident in the recommendation that we as an Administration have made and that the President sent to Congress. And we feel that the facts back up that recommendation. So I would highlight that – and as we said earlier today, we still have significant disagreements with Cuba and we have concerns about a number of Cuba’s policies and actions. Those concerns remain, but they fall outside the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terror.
QUESTION: Was there much of an effort from the legislative affairs shop to make this case on Capitol Hill, and can you characterize what --
MR RATHKE: Well, of course, we’ve had testimony by officials from the Administration – I don’t have a complete catalog in front of me – but certainly over the last – since the announcement of the new policy direction on Cuba back December 17th. We’ve had testimony by a number of officials from the State Department and from other parts of the U.S. Government to deal with all aspects of that. So we’ve certainly considered it important and we remain engaged with Congress.
QUESTION: And finally here, I guess there was an announcement – I think made from the podium at some point here – about that ETA would not use Cuban property for their terror-related activities here. Was there a similar agreement with the FLAN?
MR RATHKE: With – I’m sorry, with which organization?
QUESTION: The Puerto – FALN.
MR RATHKE: I don’t have information with that. Of course, as a U.S. territory, that would fall under a different set of – it would be a different sort of issue. I mean, as a question between – we have, of course, consulted with the governments of Colombia and of Spain because of the history related to organizations from those countries. And so we’ve worked closely with them, and both governments have been supportive of the U.S. steps.
With regard to Puerto Rico, one of the other important things that we’ve announced is that we will have a law enforcement dialogue. The Cuban Government has agreed to a law enforcement dialogue with the United States in which we will be able to address a wide range of law enforcement issues. So that’s also an important part of the dialogue we’ve had with --
QUESTION: And is there no specificity with the FALm, because that is a domestic issue – because it is Puerto Rico – or just because you just – you don’t know?
MR RATHKE: I simply don’t have further details here with me on that.
Anything else on Cuba?
MR RATHKE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the Administration going to notify Congress that it does intend to open an embassy in Havana as early as next week?
MR RATHKE: We have not made such a notification. I don’t have anything to preview and I don’t have a prediction about that.
QUESTION: Is there any reason why, now that the rescission from the SSOT has been done, that this notification can’t just go ahead? A senior State Department official told us last week that this notification to Congress could have been made several weeks ago. What – why not just go ahead and do it now?
MR RATHKE: Well, let’s not put the cart before the horse here. We’re involved in talks with the Cuban Government about re-establishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. As I said in response to Matt’s question, we have not finished those talks. We haven’t brought them to a successful conclusion yet; we’re getting closer, but we aren’t done with them yet. So I think that’s where our focus is, and I think that’s why we had a round of talks last week with Cuban officials here in Washington.
QUESTION: But the official did tell reporters last week that even though the talks are ongoing, there is no reason why a notification could not have been made before now. There just was a decision let’s just not do it, but there’s legally no reason, because the intent is there to eventually open an embassy.
MR RATHKE: Well, there – again, there might not be a legal reason, but I would go back to the answer I just gave: We are focused on concluding negotiations that are necessary for reopening embassies and to having a shared understanding of how our diplomatic missions will operate in each other’s capitals. That’s what we’re focused on. We need to sort that out, and that’s what we’re working toward.
Go ahead, Pam.
QUESTION: In reference to the statement issued earlier today, and you made mention of this, it indicates that the U.S. still has significant concerns and disagreements with Cuba. Being on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list had been a major sticking point for Cuba. With its removal from the list, diplomatically is there a concern that the U.S. may lose some of its leverage in addressing some of these disagreements and concerns?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, as I’ve said, we’ve – this has been a – we do not consider this to be part of the negotiations on re-establishing embassies. This has not been a topic of negotiation; it is not – also not part of the agenda for re-establishing relations. I think my answer to Matt on that stands.
QUESTION: But it had been a big issue for Cuba.
MR RATHKE: Well, that – yeah, and I’ll let them speak to that. But again, I’m just explaining how we see this.
QUESTION: Can you outline – you mentioned that there may or may not be a need for another round of talks. Can you outline in a general then what’s going to be the process going forward for normalization?
MR RATHKE: Well, again, the next thing that has to happen is a successful conclusion of those talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations. That’s – so I’m not trying to change in any way what Roberta Jacobson said, I’m simply reiterating it; that is, we had a round of talks last week. We’re not quite there yet, and we need to finalize them. And she spoke to the different ways in which we could move forward to bring those to a successful conclusion.
All right. Anything else on Cuba?
QUESTION: Well, I just --
MR RATHKE: Yes.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure – make one thing clear: It is not correct that the designation of a state sponsor of terrorism is a legal impediment to diplomatic relations, correct?
MR RATHKE: Well, we have had diplomatic relations with others --
QUESTION: Sudan, you still do.
MR RATHKE: -- who have been on the – yes.
QUESTION: And it is also not the case that countries that are not so designated – or it is also not the case that you recognize or you have diplomatic relations with all countries that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea.
MR RATHKE: I’d have to go through my catalogue of--
QUESTION: North Korea, which came off it.
MR RATHKE: Yeah. The establishment of diplomatic relations is done by mutual consent, in accordance with the Vienna Convention. So, yeah, you’re right.