John Baird applauds 'historic' U.S. move to restore relations with Cuba
Foreign affairs minister says Canada strongly backs decision
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has applauded the move by the United States to re-establish relations with Cuba.
During a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Saturday, Baird called the move initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama a truly historic and overdue development, adding Canada strongly supports the new policy.
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"The more American values and American capital that are permitted into Cuba, the freer the Cuban people will be," Baird said. "Not only was it about time, but it was the perfect time that this important change in policy was made.
"We are a country that believes that the more Americans — American values, American capitalism — that permeate Cuba, the freer the Cuban people will be. Not only was it about time, but it was actually at the perfect time."
Sources said Baird's remarks about perfect timing referred to a series of continuing developments. One is economic, with the collapse of oil prices and its impact on Cuba's main partner, Venezuela. Another is diplomatic, with several countries having threatened to boycott the next Summit of the Americas over the exclusion of Cuba.
The Canadian government played a cameo role in the discussions that led to the historic thaw, hosting a series of negotiating sessions between the Obama administration and the Castro government.
That process was such a tightly guarded secret in Ottawa that the announcement in December even caught some high-ranking federal officials off-guard.
The news finally broke on Dec. 17, when Obama announced the shift in policy and thanked Canada and Pope Francis for their role in facilitating it. Prime Minister Stephen Harper later acknowledged the Canadian role, and also expressed his support for the shift.
The novelty of that announcement has since given way to thorny questions about how to untangle a pile of irritants that in some cases even predate the Cold War.
The Castro government has set conditions for normalizing relations that include closing the more than a century-old U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and lifting a trade embargo that the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress is unlikely to reverse any time soon.
What has changed is that U.S. diplomats have already visited the island in an attempt to set up an embassy, visiting Cuba will become significantly easier for Americans, and U.S. companies will have opportunities there in a few limited areas.
"It's time to try something new," Kerry said of the five-decade economic embargo against Cuba.
He added that the Obama administration will continue to press Cuban leaders on democracy, human rights protections and civil society issues.
The Obama administration has said that goal is supported by removing barriers to U.S. travel, remittances and exports to Cuba. In turn, Cuba has said it welcomes those measures but has no intention of changing its system.
Baird made his remarks after the North American foreign ministers met at Kerry's Boston home and before a planned group outing to a Bruins hockey game. Baird joked that the meeting concluded with Kerry imploring everyone to "get out of my house."
One persistent irritant lingered over the otherwise chummy news conference, during which Mexico's Jose Antonio Meade also saluted the shift with Cuba: the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kerry, the lead cabinet member on the file, is expected to make a recommendation soon on whether the president should allow the oil pipeline to cross the border from Canada.
In response to a question about Keystone, Kerry simply offered a matter-of-fact summary of where the process is: There's a deadline Monday for various federal departments to weigh in on the topic, and he'll make a recommendation based on all the input.
"At that point it's in our hands for me to make a recommendation to the president," Kerry said. "The president will make a decision at some point."
Kerry didn't provide a date for a decision. He just reaffirmed his plan to finish the normal regulatory process, which would have been circumvented by a pro-Keystone bill in Congress that the president has vowed to veto.
Baird, for his part, didn't mention Keystone.
However, he did, in his opening remarks, speak about the importance of building energy infrastructure. Kerry's opening remarks, on the other hand, dwelled on the importance of fighting climate change.
They both discussed the fight against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), which Baird referred to as a "death cult" and Kerry accused of hijacking the Islamic faith.
With files from CBC News