US keeps Cuba on state sponsors of terrorism list

HAVANA (AP) — A State Department spokesman said Wednesday that Washington has no plans to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.

That is sure to ruffle feathers in Havana, which vehemently denies any links to terrorism. Cuba’s government contends its inclusion on the list is a political vendetta by a U.S. government that has kept an economic embargo on the Communist-run island for 51 years.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington “has no current plans to remove Cuba” from the list, which is included in the department’s annual report on terrorism.

The report was supposed to have been released Tuesday, but has been delayed. Officials say it is likely to come out later in May.

Wednesday was a holiday in Cuba and there was no immediate comment from the government.

There had been speculation among analysts and others that the U.S. might use the report to take Cuba off the list and boost efforts to improve relations.

“It’s a missed opportunity. There’s no doubt about it,” said Philip Peters, a longtime Cuba analyst based in Washington. “It would have been an important step. It would have removed an accusation that the whole world knows is false.”

Peters said removing Cuba from the list would have a profound impact on relations between the two countries, but keeping it on meant that a half century of mistrust would continue. He added, however, that the wording used by the State Department left open the possibility that Cuba could be taken off in the future.

Others praised the move. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida, said keeping Cuba on the list “reaffirms that the Castro regime is, and has always been, a supporter and facilitator of terrorism,” she said.

She criticized the administration for not putting North Korea back on the list. The reclusive Asian country was taken off in 2008 amid negotiations over nuclear disarmament that ultimately failed.

Cuba is ostensibly included on the list because it has harbored Colombian rebels and Basque militants as well as some aging members of American militant groups from the 1960s and ’70s.

Many Cuba watchers had speculated the time might be ripe for Cuba to get off the list, in large part because the Cuban government is now hosting peace talks between Colombian rebels and that country’s government, while the Basque militants have announced a permanent cease-fire.

The Colombian and Spanish governments have not criticized Cuba’s role in their conflicts in recent years, and both countries routinely vote against U.S. economic sanctions on the island during a yearly vote at the United Nations.

Several U.S. newspapers ran editorials calling for Cuba to be removed from the list. Some argued that the Caribbean nation’s inclusion undermined a list that is meant to highlight major international pariahs.

One of the requirements for getting off the list is that countries publicly renounce terrorism. Cuba did that in April when it sent its condolences both to the American people and the U.S. government over the bombings at the Boston marathon.

Cuba said in its message that it “rejects and condemns unequivocally all acts of terrorism, in any place, under any circumstance, and with whatever motivation.”

But Ventrell said the annual report is never used to remove or add countries from the state sponsors list. Such decisions can be made at any time during the year, he said, but added that there are no plans to alter Cuba’s status in the near future.

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