White House: Normalization wouldn’t have happened without pontiff
NEW YORK – Having helped broker the agreement to normalize relations between the United States and communist Cuba, Pope Francis plans next to turn his attention to closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, a goal he shares with President Obama.
In a meeting last week at the Vatican with Secretary of State John Kerry, the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, second in authority to the pope, offered to assist U.S. efforts to close the facility for terrorism suspects.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Vatican stood ready “to help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts” to help place current detainees,” Agence France-Presse reported.
The White House said Wednesday that the re-establishment of U.S. relations with Cuba after more than five decades came after Pope Francis and Obama discussed Cuba at their most recent meeting, which was followed by a Vatican-hosted meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials, the White House told reporters Wednesday.
The White House believes the normalizing of diplomatic relations with the island nation would not have happened without the involvement of Pope Francis, the first Catholic pontiff from Latin America.
Administration officials explained to reporters that while congressional leaders had been consulted, the Obama administration does not anticipate Congress will reverse the laws establishing the embargo aimed at ousting the communist Castro regime.
Instead, the administration has decided to implement changes in relations with Cuba through executive action, hoping Congress will see the wisdom of a “new approach.”
The deal includes the release of American aid worker Alan Gross after five years in captivity in exchange for three Cuban intelligence agents jailed since 1998 for spying on anti-Castro exile groups in Florida and monitoring U.S. military installations.
Pope Francis appeal
Last spring, Obama authorized the opening of formal negotiations with Cuba to be directed by White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Ricardo Zuniga, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council.
Although the Canadian government did not participate in the talks, it hosted the majority of the meetings between U.S. and Cuban officials.
The White House disclosed Pope Francis personally issued an appeal through a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro and to Obama calling on the leaders to resolve the cases of Gross and the three members of the “Cuban Five” imprisoned in the U.S.
The Vatican hosted and participated in meetings between U.S. and Cuban delegations in which normalization was discussed.
The White House further disclosed Pope Francis discussed Cuba with Obama in their private meeting at the Vatican March 27.
The White House made clear the Vatican played “a key role” in the negotiations re-establishing diplomatic relations and in finalizing the details of the prisoner exchange, noting that in Obama’s personal meeting with Pope Francis, the issue of Cuba “got as much discussion as anything else.”
“Support of Pope Francis was important given the esteem with which Cubans hold Pope Francis, the first pope chosen from Latin America,” a White House spokesman commented.
“We believe the embargo has not worked, but we are not calling on Congress today to make any legislative changes,” the White House spokesman said, acknowledging that President Obama had briefed congressional leaders. “We support congressional efforts to remove embargo restrictions, but we understand Congress is not likely to move quickly.”
The White House said the president was calculating the benefits of the new approach to Cuba will become apparent to the American public and to Congress.
“We believe the utility of these benefits will become evident and will generate momentum for legislative change in the near future,” the White House spokesman continued.
He explained that, at the moment, President Obama was concentrating on putting in place changes in Cuban policy that the White House has the authority under law to implement through executive action.
Full article: Pope brokered Cuba deal, now set on closing Gitmo (WND)