John Kerry: We will not give Cuba a pass on human rights

Posted at 4:05 PM, Aug 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-16 16:06:00-04

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba will need time to work, and that the U.S. won’t give Cuba a pass on human rights violations in the meantime.

Asked about a rise in detentions and recent apparent human rights violations by the authoritarian regime in an interview with CNN’s Elise Labott in Cuba, Kerry denied that the Cubans were testing America.

“I don’t think so,” Kerry said. “I think what’s happened is there is a certain amount of habit, and it’s playing out, and that’s what has to change, and we will confront those situations.”

“We’re very outspoken, and we will remain very clear and outspoken on these issues,” Kerry said. “We had a very direct conversation today about human rights. They’re ready to engage on these issues, and let’s see what progress can be made. … If they challenge their own citizens on the issue of human rights, you will hear us loudly and clearly taking them on with respect to that.”

He noted that State Department spokesman John Kirby publicly criticized Cuba for detentions over the weekend.

Kerry also said it was too early to judge how the rapprochement was proceeding and whether Cuba was reforming.

“We only just finished the negotiation on diplomatic relations a month and a half ago, two months ago. We are just literally months into this after 54 years,” Kerry said.

In a joint press conference earlier Friday with Cuba’s foreign minister, Kerry said the U.S. was standing by its “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy with respect to migrants, saying there are “no plans whatsoever to alter the current migration policy.”

The current policy allows those Cubans who reach American shores to seek asylum, while most who are found at sea are sent back. The Cuban government has been pushing for the repeal of that policy, which Congress would need to change.

Kerry also spoke with CNN about the situation in Syria, saying there’s a chance there may be progress on a political solution for the civil war-torn country.

“There’s a sense of an opening possibility only — and we’re exploring whether or not we can find a series of steps that we agree on,” Kerry said of international conversations that include the Russians and Saudis alongside the U.S. “Clearly everybody is seized on this issue right now, because of the threat of ISIS, Dayesh, that is growing, and the disorder and catastrophe that Syria has become.”

But the U.S. still needs to find agreement with those parties about the key players.

“Right now the Saudis, the Russians and we have sat together and tried to define whether we can find agreement on who the opposition is,” he noted.

Kerry said that there has not yet been an attempt to bring Iran into the conversation after striking a recent deal with the nation over its nuclear program.

“Obviously down the road at some point Iran could play a role, but we don’t know yet whether they’re ready to and willing to and capable of it,” Kerry said.