Talks aimed at halting Cubans

The Associated Press

NEW YORK U.S. and Cuban officials agreed to a second round of talks today on halting the flood of refugees from Cuba after the first day of meetings ended with no agreement.

The talks at the Cuban mission to the United Nations were to focus on migration issues only, at the insistence of the U.S. delegation. Cuba had wanted to broaden the agenda to discuss easing the U.S. economic embargo and other issues.

"We accepted to discuss migration, but migration is related to many other things," said Ricardo Alarcon, the chief Cuban delegate, in an interview Thursday night with ABC television's "Nightline." "I believe that by not addressing the fundamental issue it will be extremely difficult to find a real solution."

Thursday's meeting concentrated on "what the United States believes is a mutual objective: channeling the desire to immigrate into a legal, safe, orderly predictable and dependable process," said David Johnson, spokesman for the U.S. delegation.

In an interview with CNN after the Thursday talks, Alarcon, a senior adviser to Cuban President Fidel Castro and a former ambassador to the United Nations, said easing the 32-year U.S. embargo against Cuba was critical to halting the exodus.

Michael Skol, head of the U.S. delegation, rejected the Cuban demands.

"I've got a briefing book here, and it is on migration issues only. There's nothing here about embargo, about economics, or about anything else," he said as he entered the U.S. mission, where Thursday's talks were held.

Cuba says the refugees are fleeing for economic and not political reasons. U.S. officials blame Cuba's communist policies for its economic hardships.

Both sides made initial presentations Thursday and the United States focused on migration, law enforcement and returning Cuban criminals in U.S. jails, Johnson said after talks recessed Thursday.

He did not elaborate about the criminals but was apparently referring to the 1,397 Cubans in U.S. prisons and jails who arrived 14 years ago in the Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cubans to the United States.

Criminals also are said to be among the 19,000 Cubans who fled their home and last month in an exodus that prompted the current talks.

In apparent reference to the complaints, Foreign Ministry spokesman Miguel Alfonso said Thursday in Havana that the Cuban government was "unaware" convicts were using family leave to flee the island.

The exodus began when President Fidel Castro responded to Aug. 5 riots in Havana by suggesting he would no longer stop Cubans trying to leave.

U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships picked up 2,159 Cubans at sea Wednesday in flimsy rowboats, crude rafts and sailboats, and had rescued 1,484 rafters by late afternoon Thursday.

All will be taken to a camp set up at the Navy's base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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