Canada hosted talks leading to U.S.-Cuba diplomatic thaw
Published Wednesday, December 17, 2014 12:48PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 17, 2014 11:23PM EST
U.S. President Barack Obama thanked the Canadian government Wednesday for hosting the high-level talks that will soon lead to the resumption of diplomatic relations between his country and Cuba.
In a surprise announcement Wednesday, the Obama administration said that the two countries have agreed to engage in high-level talks aimed at re-establishing diplomatic ties and eventually lifting a travel and trade embargo that has been in place for more than 50 years.
In an address to his nation at noon Wednesday, Obama thanked two partners in the United States’ efforts to normalize relations with its long-time foe: Pope Francis, and the Canadian government.
Canada was the “principal venue” for secret meetings between U.S. and Cuba between June 2013 and November 2014, CTV’s Washington Bureau Chief Paul Workman reported Wednesday.
Canada hosted six meetings in Ottawa and one in Toronto, but did not participate in the discussions. A final agreement came together at a meeting hosted by the Vatican in October.
U.S. officials confirmed that Pope Francis was personally involved in the process and sent letters to Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro urging them to resume diplomatic ties.
In his address, Obama thanked Pope Francis, “whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”
He also thanked the government of Canada, “which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated the U.S. and Cuba on their "successful dialogue and negotiations."
Harper added that “Canada supports a future for Cuba that fully embraces the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks.”
Despite close ties between Canada and Cuba, Harper has been a harsh critic of the communist country, objecting to its entry into the Summit of the Americas.
“Mr. Harper has continued to be the person who has had severe reservations, more than the Americans, about Cuba,” said John Kirk, an expert on Cuba from Dalhousie University.
Former Canadian ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwhistle, said U.S. and Cuban officials needed a “safe and neutral” place to hold their talks, and they could not do that either in Havana or in Washington.
Canada provided a “safe and trusted place to have those conversations,” which Entwhistle called, “a fitting role for Canadian diplomacy.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar hailed Canadian diplomats for their work.
"This is an example of constructive diplomacy, something that Canada is very good at," Dewar said in a statement.
“Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy. We should see more of this constructive approach in Canadian foreign policy."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, whose father had a close relationship with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro during his time as prime minister in the 1970s, said he is glad to see “the welcome steps” of the two countries rebuilding their relationship.
“I look forward to Canada playing a positive role in bringing the two countries closer together,” Trudeau said.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife