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U.S., Cuba reopen embassies after five-decade split

Peter Orsi Associated Press

HAVANA – Cuba’s blue, red and white-starred flag is set to fly outside the country’s diplomatic mission in the United States for the first time since the countries severed ties in 1961.

While no formal ceremony is planned today for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, it too will become a full-fledged embassy just after midnight as the Cold War foes formally enter a new era of engagement despite what remains a deep ideological gulf.

“It’s a historic moment,” said longtime Cuban diplomat and analyst Carlos Alzugaray, adding that now the truly hard work begins: Resolving thorny disputes such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s insistence on the end of the 53-year-old trade embargo and U.S. calls for Cuba to improve on human rights and democracy.

“The significance of opening the embassies is that trust and respect that you can see, both sides treating the other with trust and respect,” Alzugaray added. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be conflicts – there are bound to be conflicts – but the way that you treat the conflict has completely changed.”

Cuba plans a solemn morning ceremony at its stately mission in Washington with some 500 guests, including a 30-member delegation of diplomatic, cultural and other leaders from the Caribbean nation, headed by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The U.S. government will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led U.S. negotiators in six months of talks leading to the July 1 announcement that embassies would reopen, and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the U.S. Interests Section chief in Havana who will now become charge d’affaires.

Rodriguez is scheduled to meet later in the day with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Officials say the U.S. Interests Section in Havana will not immediately raise the stars and stripes, instead waiting for a formal ceremony expected to be presided over by Kerry in August.

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