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After Second Round Of Talks, Cubans, Americans Emerge Upbeat

Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, smiles at the start of the Cuba talks at the State Department in Washington, on Friday.

After a second round of talks, Cuban and American diplomats emerged upbeat about the potential to reestablish diplomatic ties between the long-estranged neighbors.

In a press conference following the talks, Roberta Jacobson, the diplomat leading the talks for the Americans, said: "Today we saw the kind of constructive exchange that advances us toward a more productive diplomatic relationship."

Her counterpart, Josefina Vidal, who is leading the talks for the Cubans said: "We are confident that there can be civilized relations and coexistence between Cuba and the United States and that we would be able to recognize and respect our difference so that as neighbors we can identify areas of mutual interest to cooperate for the benefit of our two countries, the region and world."

In diplomatic speak, those are some pretty positive words.

Coming into the meeting, two issues loomed large: Cuba's demand that the U.S. remove it from the State Department's State Sponsor of Terrorism list. And the U.S. demand that its diplomats in Havana have complete freedom of mobility, meeting whoever they want, whenever they want.

Vidal said that the U.S. had assured them they were working on reviewing the country's spot on the terrorism list.

"For Cuba it is a matter of sheer justice," she said. "Cuba strongly believes that it should have never been included in these limited list of countries and today there is no ground to justify the inclusion of our country on that list."

But, leaving an opening, she added that the removal of Cuba from the list is a "priority" but not a "precondition" for reopening embassies.

Jacobson said talks took on a "very cooperative spirit" and the two sides made "progress on a number" of issues.

Jacobson said one sign of how well the talks have gone is that right now there are about six other dialogues that are planned or happening. One of those talks, she said, involves opening up telecommunications on the island and the other, which Jacobson called the "most challenging but most important," is about human rights.

Jacobson added that she thought the U.S. embassy in Havana could be open as early as April, as the Summit of the Americas gets going in Panama.

"I certainly think that with the kind of cooperation that we had today I certainly leave those conversations today optimistic but committed and recognizing the work that still has to be done, but certainly not daunted by the idea that there is a desire to move forward as quickly as we can," Jacobson said.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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