U.S., Cuba to hold postal service talks – diplomats

HAVANA, Aug 31 (Reuters) – Talks aimed at resuming direct postal service between the United States and Cuba, which has been suspended for decades, are set to be held in mid-September in another sign of thawing U.S.-Cuba relations, Western diplomats said.

Officials from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Postal Service were expected to attend the discussions in Havana, the diplomats, who asked not to be named, said.

No further details were immediately available and there was no immediate confirmation from the Cuban government.

The talks are part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s declared intention to “recast” relations with Communist-ruled Cuba, which for 47 years has been the target of a U.S. trade embargo.

In April, Obama lifted restrictions on travel and remittances sent to Cuba by Cuban Americans with relatives on the island and he has restarted talks on immigration that were suspended by the Bush administration in 2004.

Cuba agreed in late May to resume the immigration discussions and also to a U.S. request for talks on the postal service.

At present, mail between the two countries must go through a third country.

Direct postal service was suspended as a result of the animosity between the United States and Cuba that began soon after the Cuban revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Diplomatic relations were broken off in 1961 and a year later the U.S. launched a trade embargo that is still in place.

The United States has approached Cuba before about resuming direct postal services but Cuba has insisted in the past that, among other things, this must be accompanied by a resumption of regular scheduled commercial flights between the two nations just 90 miles (145 km) apart. Currently, only charter flights are permitted under U.S. regulations.

Cuba is also said to be concerned about the possible delivery by post of items it views as potentially harmful, including chemicals, firearms, ammunition, and technology such as satellite phones.

U.S. express mail service companies such as UPS (UPS.N) and FedEx (FDX.N) cannot operate in Cuba but German-owned carrier DHL (DPWGn.DE) can.

According to John Kavulich, senior policy advisor at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York, resumption of direct mail would likely draw interest from UPS and FedEx.

“Pressure might increase for UPS and FedEx to have the right to compete with the U.S. Postal Service,” he said. The two companies “might not want to service Cuba, but they would certainly insist on the right to compete.”

He also said that with direct postal service, Cuba’s government agencies would be expected to respond more promptly to U.S. requests and queries than in the past.

“With normalization comes accountability — a relationship that centrally-planned commercial, economic and political systems are not designed to accept readily,” Kavulich told Reuters.

While Obama has moved to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, he has said the U.S. trade embargo will only be eliminated if Cuba make progress on political prisoners and human rights.

Cuba has said it is willing to discuss everything with Washington but has ruled out unilateral political concessions or any shift to capitalism.

www.particularcuba.com – Online information on Cuba

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