Via The Associated Press: “US, Cuba set new round of immigration talks”:
Senior U.S. and Cuban officials will meet next week in a new round of immigration talks, the State Department said Thursday, even as the Obama administration continues to press for the release a detained American aid contractor.
Spokesman Mark Toner said U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet in Havana on Jan. 12 to monitor adherence to a 17-year-old agreement under which the United States issues 20,000 visas to Cubans a year. They will discuss “policies and procedures that promote safe, legal and orderly migration,” he said.
However, in the past, both sides have used the meeting to delve into more contentious issues, including U.S. criticism of Cuba’s human rights record and Cuban complaints about the 48-year U.S. trade embargo.
In making the announcement, Toner repeated U.S. demands for Cuba to release jailed contractor Alan Gross, whom Cuba has accused of spying. Gross has been jailed for more than a year in Havana without charge.
“We urge his immediate release so that he can return to his family,” Toner said. “We’re engaged with Cuba to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, and to prevent the dangers and loss of life associated with illegal migration but the release of Alan Gross remains an important objective that we’ll continue to advance.”
U.S. officials have made clear that there is little hope for improved relations while Cuba holds Gross. They have also continued to call on Cuban authorities to open up the island’s political system to democratic reform. Cuba insists that the U.S. drop the trade embargo and stop meddling in the island’s internal affairs.
The Havana talks will mark the fourth round of immigration talks. The third round of immigration talks took place in Washington in June.