THE United States and Cuba agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals yesterday.
The agreement marks the biggest tangible step in the countries’ historic bid to restore ties after more than a half-century of hostilities.
President Barack Obama announced the agreement at the White House.
The US embassy in Havana is due to open later this month.
The US and Cuba have been quietly negotiating the re-establishment of embassies after a December announcement that secret talks had produced an agreement to restart diplomatic relations.
A senior Obama administration official confirmed the embassy planning.
Secretary of State John Kerry had said previously that he would travel to Cuba for an embassy opening.
The US cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after the Cuban revolution.
The US spent decades unsuccessfully trying to overthrow Cuba’s government or isolate the island.
Significant issues remain, however. Among them are demands for compensation for confiscated US properties in Havana, damage to Cuba from the embargo and the touchy topic of the US base at Guantanamo.
Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a well-known anti-Castro Cuban-American, moaned that opening the embassy “will do nothing to help the Cuban people.”
But Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, said the move was part of the administration’s “common-sense approach to Cuba.”
Elsewhere, Cuba was the recipient of huge praise from the World Health Organisation (WHO) when it declared Cuba the first country in the world to have eliminated the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child.
The WHO said that an international delegation sent to Cuba in March by the UN agency and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) had determined that the country met the criteria for the designation.
In 2013, only two children in Cuba were born with HIV and five with syphilis, a WHO statement said.
“Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and, indeed, are the key to success,” said PAHO director Carissa Etienne.
The PAHO and WHO credited Cuba with offering women early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing, as well as treatment for mothers who test positive.