In a clear expression of the United States President Barack Obama’s intentions, a senior State Department official held talks with Cuban officials in Havana last month. A wide range of issues was discussed under the ostensible topic of a resumption of direct U.S.-Cuban mail services, which the U.S. had suspended in August 1963. The recent exchanges, amounting to the two states’ closest dealings for 27 years, took six days in all. The U.S. envoy, Bisa Williams, an acting deputy assistant secretary of state, met the Cuban deputy foreign minister, Dagoberto Rodriguez, and other officials. In talks described by Josefina Vidal Ferreira, leader of the Cuban delegation, as “wide-ranging and useful,” topics covered included migration, drug-trafficking, and diplomatic practicalities. Ms Williams also met 15 prominent dissidents and attended a huge pop concert dedicated to peace. While this is the highest-level encounter between the two countries since President George W. Bush suspended contact in 2003, the hostile language used particularly by Republican U.S. presidents conceals the fact that U.S.-Cuban contacts have never ceased completely. Since 1963, the Swiss embassies in Havana and Washington have respectively hosted a U.S. and a Cuban Interests Section, and the Ford and Reagan administrations both met Cuban officials, including Fidel Castro on one occasion.

President Obama is keeping the tone subdued, so as to minimise opposition in the U.S. Three Cuban-born members of the House of Representatives have already criticised the talks. In fact Mr. Obama has signed a one-year extension of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1917, to maintain sanctions on Cuba. However, on a visit to Trinidad and Tobago in April, Mr. Obama said that the U.S. seeks “a new beginning” with Cuba, and he has ended the Bush administration’s block on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans. The U.S. stands to gain from a normalisation of U.S.-Cuban links, which could mark a new beginning in its foreign relations, particularly in its attitude towards the developing world. Cuba has maintained extensive contact with almost all other states; it has aided other developing countries in their liberation struggles militarily and with its own highly-trained medical staff, and is rich in natural resources like nickel, cobalt, and oil. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama initiated the recent contact because he thinks it is the right thing to do. It is to be hoped that this laudable move will lead to the re-establishment of full relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

A correction: (A sentence in the first paragraph of the above editorial reads: “While this is the highest-level encounter between the two countries since President George W. Bush suspended contact in 2003, the hostile language used particularly by Republican U.S. presidents conceals the fact that U.S.-Cuban contacts have never ceased completely.” President Bush’s administration ended the twice-a-year migration talks with Havana in 2004, and not in 2003.)

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