US and Cuba launch landmark talks

NEW YORK: Representatives from arch Cold-War foes the United States and Cuba met for migration talks on Tuesday, the first such meeting in six years.

"The talks have started this morning. They will last one day," US delegation spokeswoman Heidi Bronke-Fulton said of the New York-hosted discussions.

"We expect to have a statement published later this evening," she told AFP.

Ahead of the talks, the US State Department said they would focus on how to create "safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States."

The move to thaw relations follows President Barack Obama's decision in April to authorize travel and money transfers to the island by US nationals of Cuban descent.

US-Cuba dialogue was suspended in 2003 by then US president George W. Bush.

Havana informed Washington in late May that it would take up the renewed US offer of talks.

In early June, the White House welcomed Havana's agreement to resume talks on migration issues, but a US State Department official did not confirm whether the negotiations would address establishing direct mail service between the two countries -- current policy requires mail to go through third countries.

Mistrust between the two countries is still strong.

Earlier this month Cuba's government-run press reported that the Communist island's leaders feared a US invasion as recently as 2003.

Cuban President Raul Castro told the National Defense Council that in 2003 Cuban authorities believed then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was planning a huge attack against the communist-run island.

"It was most dangerous moment ever to face our country since the missile crisis of 1962," he told the council, according to Granma.

From a Cuban perspective, the relationship continued to be dominated by US sanctions.

Washington has insisted must improve human rights -- including releasing political prisoners and expanding political freedoms -- before fully ending its isolation under a decades-long US embargo.

In the absence of official ties, the only diplomatic link between the two nations are their interests sections in Havana and Washington, which are run out of the Swiss embassies.