Obama to announce US, Cuba will open embassies this month

Fifty-four years after the rupture in US-Cuba diplomatic relations, both nations will announce today that they will once again host embassies and receive ambassadors from each other. The Associated Press reports that Barack Obama will make the announcement today from the White House, and will plan to have the US embassy open in Havana later this month:

The United States and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals, the biggest tangible step in the countries’ historic bid to restore ties after more than a half-century of hostilities.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce the agreement Wednesday at the White House. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is scheduled to open later this month. …

A senior Obama administration official confirmed the embassy planning. The official insisted on anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter ahead of the president.

The advocates of the Cuba opening hail this as a rare moment of bilateralism since the agreement in December between Obama and Raul Castro:

The expected announcement Wednesday would be the most concrete development to come out of the U.S. policy shift on Cuba. While Mr. Obama has taken several unilateral steps to advance ties, including removing Cuba from the terrorism list, the latest move is the product of bilateral conversation.

“It’s a big milestone,” said Ted Piccone, a Cuba expert at the Brookings Institution. “This is the first thing we’ve seen since the Dec. 17 agreement that says, ‘We’re jointly agreeing to this step.’”

Bilateralism, but but bipartisanism, the Wall Street Journal notes. Until Cuba cleans up its human-rights record, leading Republicans argue, opening an embassy sends the wrong message:

But news of the expected announcement drew jeers from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.-Fla.), a critic of Mr. Castro. “There was little doubt that the Obama administration would pursue its goal of opening an embassy in Cuba no matter the sad reality on the ground,” she said. “Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.” …

The U.S. relationship with Cuba is destined for the 2016 presidential campaign. Sen.Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a Cuban-American and a 2016 presidential candidate, is leading efforts to ensure the U.S. economic embargo holds. He also has said he’ll oppose the nomination of any ambassador to Cuba unless he sees progress on human rights, the return of fugitives held in Cuba, the resolution of property claims and removal of restrictions of U.S. diplomats in Cuba.

Congress blocked funds a month ago for the use of opening an embassy in Havana in the upcoming budget. That won’t keep Obama and the State Department from designating an embassy, as the US still uses the same building as the 1961 embassy for other purposes. It badly needs repair, especially to come up to the modern standards of an embassy, but the Congressional block on funds will prevent Obama from renovating it — a job that will cost at least $6.6 million, the State Department told Congress in May. Obama and Congress will wrangle over the budget in the fall, and this may or may not survive. It’s pretty clear with this standoff that Obama’s desire to get Congress to lift the embargo with Cuba will be a non-starter, which may leave Obama with an embassy but not much else.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the AP report call this a big win for Obama anyway, even though almost all of the effort in this newfound relationship has been unilateral. If anyone won, it’s Raul Castro, who got the Obama administration to capitulate on the diplomatic standoff on Cuba’s terms — without having made any significant concession on human rights to gain access to American trade and investment. The AP’s note at the end bizarrely ties this in with the Obergefell decision on Friday in order to call this a “good week” for Obama, but it’s more akin to the negotiations with Iran, where Obama and John Kerry are desperately trying to give away the store to Iran.