Tue, Sep 22, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US might abstain on UN Cuba vote

EASING OF SANCTIONS:US President Barack Obama has been urging the US Congress to scrap a 54-year-old trade embargo against Cuba since December last year

AP, WASHINGTON

For the first time, the US might be willing to accept a UN condemnation of the US trade embargo against Cuba without a fight.

US officials told The Associated Press that US President Barack Obama’s administration is weighing abstaining from the annual UN General Assembly vote on a Cuban-backed resolution demanding that the embargo be lifted. The vote could come next month.

No decision has yet been made, said four administration officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity.

However, merely considering an abstention is unprecedented. Following through on the idea would send shock waves through both the UN and the US Congress.

It is unheard of for a UN member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws.

By not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against Congress, which has refused to repeal the embargo, despite calls from Obama to do so.

Obama has been urging Congress to scrap the 54-year-old embargo since December last year, when he announced that Washington and Havana would normalize diplomatic relations. The two nations reopened embassies last month, and Obama has chipped away at US restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, using executive authorities. However, the embargo stands.

The latest US easing of sanctions occurred on Friday last week and was followed by a rare telephone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.

The White House said Obama and Castro discussed “steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation.”

The Cuban government said Castro “emphasized the need to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade policy for the benefit of both peoples.”

Neither statement mentioned the UN vote. Yet, as it has for the last 23 years, Cuba is to introduce a resolution at the upcoming General Assembly criticizing the embargo and demanding its end.

The US has lost each vote by increasingly overwhelming and embarrassing margins. Last year’s tally was 188-2 in favor of Cuba, with only Israel siding with the US.

The administration has not yet decided how to vote, according to the US officials. They said that the US is still more likely to vote against the resolution than abstain.

However, the officials said the US would consider abstaining if the wording of the resolution is significantly different than in previous years. The administration is open to discussing revisions with Cuba and others, they added, something US diplomats have never done before.

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