September 26, 2011
Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times
A week after an effort to gain the release of an American jailed in Cuba ended in recriminations, the Cuban foreign minister said Friday that the door remained open to free him on humanitarian grounds, but only with a reciprocal effort from the United States.
In an interview with editors and reporters at The New York Times, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said his country was still seeking closer ties with the United States, suggesting that the two sides start with subjects on which they should be able to find common ground most easily — fighting drug trafficking, terrorism and threats to the environment, to name a few.
“It’s in the best interest of the U.S. and Cuba to move ahead on the normalization of bilateral relations,” Mr. Rodríguez said.
One of the more contentious issues roiling relations right now is the dispute over Alan Gross, a State Department contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for distributing satellite equipment under an American program aimed at weakening the Cuban government.
Last week, Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and American diplomat, questioned whether Cuba really wanted warmer relations with the United States as he bitterly left Cuba without Mr. Gross or even a chance to visit him.
But Mr. Rodríguez, without being explicit, suggested that Cuba and the United States could find mutual humanitarian gestures to end the stalemate.
“I do not see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of reciprocity,” he said.
Mr. Rodríguez declined to say what he had discussed with Mr. Richardson, but he said that all topics between the two nations remained open to discussion, including the return of one or all of the Cuban Five, men serving prison sentences in the United States on espionage charges.
“I can tell you the agenda submitted to the U.S. government — and I reiterate here it is still on the table — included the topic of the Cuban Five, although we understand that as it is an element related to justice, it is also of a humanitarian character.”
He said President Obama could pardon them “as a humanitarian act, which would be appreciated by their mothers, wives and the entire Cuban people.”
Still, Mr. Rodríguez later said he was not linking the Gross case to the Cuban Five, and he took pains to keep the Gross affair separated from the five decades of hostility and diplomatic tit-for-tat that has defined Cuban and United States relations.
“I believe that establishing a link between pending bilateral issues to a humanitarian solution in the case of Mr. Gross is a mistake,” he said, later adding, “it is not right to merge this with political issues or add it to the bilateral agenda, which is quite hefty already.”
The State Department, too, prefers no link between Mr. Gross and the Cuban Five. William Ostick, a spokesman, said the case of the Cuban Five and Mr. Gross “are not comparable.”
“We will continue to use every available diplomatic channel to press for his immediate and unconditional release,” he said.