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Monday, March 28, 2011

Jimmy Carter starts Cuba visit, to discuss ties

Former President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with Cuba''s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at Havana''s Jose Marti airport.

Former President Jimmy Carter, returning to Cuba for the first time since a groundbreaking 2002 trip, began a three-day visit on Monday to discuss troubled US-Cuba relations and is likely to talk about the fate of imprisoned US aid contractor Alan Gross.

Although just 90 miles of water separate the two Cold War enemies, Carter, 86, is the only US president, former or sitting, to visit the communist-ruled island since a 1959 revolution toppled a US-backed dictator and put Fidel Castro in power.

Carter and his wife Rosalynn, who were invited by the Cuban government, received a low-key welcome from Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez after their plane landed at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport on a visit being described as "private".

Rodriguez shook Carter's hand and gave Rosalynn Carter flowers. They continued on with only a wave to the media.

In 2002, Carter was welcomed by then-president Fidel Castro. Now 84, Castro stepped down as president three years ago and was succeeded by his younger brother Raul 79.

Carter was scheduled to go to the headquarters of Cuba's Jewish community, then meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana.

He was to hold talks with President Raul Castro tomorrow.

Carter is expected to discuss the possible release of Alan Gross, 61, who this month was sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing illegal Internet access to Cuban dissidents under a controversial US program.

The Gross case has strained US-Cuba relations after a modest warming under President Barack Obama.

Since leaving office after his 1977-1981 term, Carter has occasionally served as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter, including a mission last August to North Korea to secure the release of an American imprisoned there. 

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Tags:  castro  fidel  carter  jimmy  US  cuba  





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