WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism after more than a quarter-century, the White House said Tuesday. It's a big step toward Obama's goal of normalizing relations with the island nation.
Just days ago, Obama sat down to a historic face-to-face meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro at an international summit in Panama. The two discussed the terrorism listing as well as reopening embassies to fully restore diplomatic ties after more than a half-century of Cold War antagonism.
The president's action Tuesday begins a 45-day review in Congress before the change can become official.
The list consists of countries that the State Department has determined to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Being listed means sanctions: no U.S. foreign aid and no arms, and limits on export goods and financial services.
Iran, Sudan and Syria are on the list. Cuba has been on it since 1982.
The State Department last week completed its required review of Cuba's listing, which has been a key sticking point in negotiations with the Cuban government over re-establishing diplomatic ties.
In his notification to Congress on Tiesday, Obama certified that the Cuban government has not provided support for international terrorism in the past six months and that it has assured that it will not support such acts in the future.
"Circumstances have changed since 1982," Secretary of State John Kerry said. He noted that Cuba was put on the list for its efforts to promote "armed revolution by force" in Latin America. "Our hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago."
To be sure, White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged, the U.S. will continue to have differences with the Cuban government.
"But our concerns over a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism," he said. "The United States will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people."
Congress now has 45 days to block the president's action through a vote of both chambers. But it is unlikely that opponents will be able to muster the required veto-proof majority.
On the other hand, Congress is unlikely to heed the president's request to pass legislation lifting the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
Administration officials said they were "pretty optimistic" that Tuesday's action could be followed soon by the reopening of embassies, but only if Cuban officials agree to give American diplomats the same freedom they enjoy in other nations.