U.S. stands to win clout with OAS deal on Cuba, experts say

WASHINGTON — U.S. support for ending Cuba's nearly 50-year-old suspension from the Organization of American States has given the Obama administration greater clout in the region at little cost, according to diplomats and experts.

But President Barack Obama's efforts to engage Havana and promote reform on the communist island did not appear greatly advanced by the OAS move because Cuba has no plans to rejoin the organization.

And prospects for improved U.S.-Cuba ties may have been damaged by Friday's federal charges against a former State Department intelligence analyst accused of spying for Cuba over a 30-year period.

The administration has been denounced by conservative lawmakers for accepting the OAS compromise, and many of those critics probably will seize on the espionage case to argue against further engagement.

Still, regional experts do not believe the U.S. change of position at the OAS signals any real shift in policy.

By agreeing to revoke the 1962 suspension but persuading Latin American nations to link Cuba's return to democratic reform, the administration gives the appearance of making concessions.

In reality, the U.S. decision carefully ensured there will be no short-term change in Cuba's status in the OAS, experts said.

"I presume the U.S. accepted it because they didn't think anything would happen with the Cubans meeting the conditions," said Sydney Weintraub, a Latin American analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The step could improve Obama's chances to re-engage with leftist and leftward-drifting leaders in the hemisphere. Experts said bowing to demands for the suspension to be lifted looks like a shift and will be welcomed in Latin America, where leaders bristle at perceived U.S. arrogance and oppose isolation of Havana. It also may have salvaged the credibility of the OAS, which had been in danger of splintering over Cuba.

"This was the right decision from the point of view of the OAS and the U.S. as well," said Mauricio Cardenas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

U.S. stands to win clout with OAS deal on Cuba, experts say 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 9:25pm]

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