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U.S., Cuba to resume talks on migration

HAVANA -- The United States and Cuba have agreed to resume bilateral talks on migration issues next month, a State Department official said yesterday, the latest evidence of a thaw in chilly relations between the Cold War enemies.

Havana and Washington just wrapped up a round of separate negotiations aimed at restarting direct mail service, which has been suspended since 1963.

Both sets of talks have been on hold in recent years in a dispute over the fate of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Havana after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally.

The migration talks will be held in Washington on July 17. The State Department official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publically, spoke on condition of anonymity.

The talks are "consistent with our interest in promoting greater freedoms and respect for human rights in Cuba," the official said.

Also yesterday, Cuba issued a statement declaring the recently concluded mail talks as "welcome" and "fruitful," but also said its delegation had informed the Americans that "a high-quality, stable and secure" mail service between the countries is impossible as long as Washington maintains its 51-year economic embargo on the communist-run island.

A nascent effort at rapprochement between Washington and Havana has stalled since Gross's arrest, and the resumption of the two sets of bilateral talks is sure to raise speculation that there could be movement on his case. Gross was working on a USAID democracy building program at the time of his arrest in December 2009. Washington has said repeatedly that no major improvement in relations can occur until he is released.

Cuba also is demanding the release of four of its intelligence agents serving long sentences in the United States.

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