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Staying power? How durable are improved relations with Cuba?

President Obama's and Cuban President Raul Castro's meeting Saturday is being heralded as a new era of diplomatic relations between the two countries. But many obstacles still remain until the two can reach normalized ties. Carla Robbins, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    For more about the Summit of the Americas and the changing U.S.-Cuban relationship, we are joined now by Carla Robbins. She is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    So, why was this meeting so important?

  • CARLA ROBBINS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:

    Well, it was the first time in 50 years that there was a direct conversation between two — a Cuban president and an American president. Of course, obviously, the first time since communist rule came to Cuba and it is going to be the beginning of a new and beautiful friendship.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. So, what came out of the meeting? What didn’t?

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

    Well, we don’t know exactly what came out of the meeting just yet, but President Obama said he wants to normalize relationships. They want to open embassies. Right now, there are intersections both in Cuba and the United States. And so, it’s the beginning of normalizing relations, but the embargo is not going to be lifted yet.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     Right. The embargo is not going to be lifted, and there’s also a big catch Cuba is very interested in, is getting off the list of state sponsors of terror. They’re still on there.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     They are still on there and Castro has said that they are not even going to open the embassies until that happens. The president was very coy this week. He said he got his recommendation from the State Department but he hasn’t said what it’s going to be. We all know that’s going to happen. Whether it’s going to happen today or it’s going to happen in a few weeks, it’s definitely going to happen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     And this has a ripple effect because obviously businesses don’t want to be doing business with a country that’s on that list.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     More importantly, it’s the banking sanctions issue that they’re very sensitive. Cubans say they can’t even use a credit card. But more than anything else, American companies and particularly the telecom companies, which is what President Obama hopes is going to go in there because that’s the whole point of the opening, they don’t want to do — get on the wrong side of the Treasury Department.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     So, when Castro was allotted his eight minutes, he went for 48 minutes and decided to give the entire audience a history of Cuba-U.S. relations.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     Listen, 48 minutes is very short for a Castro to speak.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     Right, right. And in there, I mean, he railed against U.S. policy but actually spared Obama.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     He apologized to Obama. He said, “Youngster, you’re not responsible for this one.” And he’s really — obviously, this is — this is a moment, an extraordinary moment on both sides for the two of them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     And compare that to the head of Venezuela, the head of Ecuador making very bombastic statements against current U.S. policy as they were speaking.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     On the other hand, this was a sort of an extraordinary moment in the sense that Obama was very, very deeply embraced by the — by everyone else there because they had been insisting for the last two summits that the U.S. get rid of this relic of the Cold War, which is the embargo — sorry, the end of this relationship.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     None of this happens in a vacuum. This is happening at a time when we’re still in conversations with Iran, and kind of paint those connections for us. Why does one affect other?

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     Well, because, you know, Iran, obviously, is the bogeyman but Cuba was the bogeyman for a very long period of time. And this negotiation with Iran and the sanctions on Iran is the number one issue, the number one legacy issue, and obviously, the number one national security issue because of the nuclear relationship and great concern there.

    And the same people are opposed to lifting — you know, improving relations with Cuba are very, very much opposed to lift anything sanctions on Iran.

    And the president has to be very concerned about this notion that somehow he’s soft on dictators.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     And this is, of course, in the context of at least a couple of people announcing their presidential campaigns tomorrow and the day after.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     Marco Rubio —

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     Yes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     — Marco Rubio very concerned about that right now. And we’re going have a hearing on this legislation in which the Congress is insisting that it’s going to have to have a voice on the lifting of the sanctions and that’s going to happen on Tuesday.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

     All right. Carla Robbins, from the Council on Foreign Relations, thanks so much.

  • CARLA ROBBINS:

     Thanks for having me.

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