|April 21, 2016: In this edition
Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez on the future of U.S.-Cuba relations
Full normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations will require time and careful bilateral deliberations, His Excellency José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, ambassador of Cuba to the U.S., said at a recent Director’s Lecture Series event at the Baker Institute.
Cabañas gave an overview of progress since the restoration of diplomatic ties, including the signing of a series of agreements on aviation, postal service and agricultural issues that are expected to eventually boost travel and collaborations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Other issues that remain to be addressed through a commission of U.S. and Cuban negotiators include law enforcement, human rights, the environment and public health.
“In other scenarios, you have a bible or a reference book, and you can check a paragraph or page for instructions. In this case, we don’t have a reference book. We actually have to discover everything,” Cabañas said.
Reaching a consensus on these issues will involve building trust between negotiators from the U.S. and Cuba as they share information and work toward finalizing agreements, Cabañas said.
Cuba wants to see the U.S. lift all sanctions against Cuba and establish trade avenues with the country in order to fully normalize ties, Cabañas said. The country also wants Guantanamo Bay returned to Cuban control.
Cabañas said signs of progress include the U.S. removing Cuba from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, as well as steady visits from top U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and key cabinet members. Several companies have also signed agreements to do business in Cuba, such as Starwood Hotels, Western Union, and phone carriers like Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, he said.
In addition, the number of Americans visiting Cuba jumped by 77 percent in 2015, while a record 298,000 Cuban-Americans visited the island in the same period, Cabañas said.
There have been a few hiccups, however. For example, while Carnival signed an agreement to begin adding Cuba to cruise itineraries, the island remained on a U.S. list of countries with unsafe ports until March 2016, preventing the company from actually docking in Cuba.
Cabañas also said that after the December 2014 announcement of the restoration of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties, U.S. agencies amended some regulations toward Cuba, but the measures did little to advance progress between the countries.
“You had people writing regulations on banking services that had never talked to our officials in the field,” Cabañas said. “Let’s have a dialogue among regulators … to try to understand how our system works in order to produce regulation that actually helps accomplish something.”
Cabañas refuted perceptions that Cuba is moving too slowly or rejecting proposals from U.S. entities, saying that the U.S. sanctions still in place represent a greater hindrance to progress.
“We don’t have, in Cuba, any ruling that prevents any American company in any field to do business with Cuba. We don’t have to remove the U.S. from any list, we don’t have a sanctions regime on the U.S.,” Cabañas said.
Even with the challenges ahead, both countries stand to benefit from normalized ties. For example, Cuba and the U.S. have shared environmental and public health interests, such as combating oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico or controlling the spread of tropical diseases like the Zika virus, Cabañas said.
“Strategic dialogue between adversaries is a key component of democracy and a way to determine common ground to help resolve differences,” Baker Institute Director Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian said in his opening remarks. “The time is well past for the United States and Cuba to move forward.”
Click here for a video of Ambassador Cabañas' remarks and a Q&A session moderated by Ambassador Djerejian.
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Inside the Iran nuclear deal
The lengthy negotiations that produced the Iran nuclear arms agreement often mirrored a Rubik’s Cube in that all the pieces had to align properly in order to solve the puzzle, former Under Secretary of Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said at an April 14 Baker Institute event on U.S.-Iran relations.
Sherman, who served as the lead negotiator for the United States on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, gave an insider account of the deliberations during her keynote address at the conference. The event, sponsored by the Center for the Middle East and the Center for Energy Studies, examined the key policy issues and implications of the nuclear agreement.
“Debates on the merits of the agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 have been as intense in Iran as here in the United States,” Baker Institute Director Edward P. Djerejian said.
“As we move deeper into the presidential campaign and closer to a new presidential administration, there could not be a better time to examine where we stand on one of President Obama’s most significant policy initiatives, one that may constitute one of the defining legacies of his presidency, or — hopefully not — unravel in mutual recrimination and regret.”
Negotiations involved both individual and one-on-one talks with Iran, P5+1 members, European Union countries and the Gulf States, as well as deliberations within U.S. government and Congress, Sherman said.
The Rubik’s Cube served as a constant analogy throughout the process — the U.S. negotiations team even made custom models of the puzzle with each square listing all of the issues at stake.
“You move any element this way, and another element moves that way,” Sherman said. “So you can’t say, ‘Gosh, I wish we’d done more here,’ because if you’d done more there, you would have had to do less somewhere else, or the deal wouldn’t have locked into place. All of the elements are gives and takes on all sides.”
She attributed the successful signing and implementation of the nuclear deal to a mix of fortuitous timing, leverage and political will between all parties to reach an agreement. She also gave credit to President Barack Obama for laying out a clear objective and parameters for the agreement — i.e., that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon — and praised negotiators from the participating countries for remaining focused on the talks amid intense international pressure.
Sherman also described a moving moment during the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on July 14, 2015, in Vienna. Secretary of State John Kerry said he’d pushed so hard for the nuclear deal in part due to his combat experiences in Vietnam, which spurred a lifelong commitment to ending the world’s wars. His remarks drew applause from the entire room, Sherman said.
“Everyone understood. Everyone had fought for the same thing — for peace, not for war,” Sherman said.
Click here for videos of Ambassador Sherman's keynote address on the events that led to the historic agreement and panel discussions on U.S.-Iran relations.
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- Global Health in a Globalized Texas. This conference will focus on Texas’ unique vantage on international health issues. Experts will discuss how advancements in the state can shape local and global health priorities, including emergency response, research and development, and service delivery. The event will also feature a retrospective analysis of the U.S. response to Ebola in 2014 and policy recommendations for more effective responses to future global health threats. 8:00 am April 22
- McLarty Lecture Series: A Conversation with His Excellency Luis Videgaray Caso. At this event, His Excellency Luis Videgaray Caso, Mexico's secretary of finance and public credit, will address the country's economic situation and the impact of reforms, growth and budgets on its future. 6:00 pm April 25
- Transatlantic Energy Security Forum. A distinguished collection of speakers from industry and government will discuss recent developments in transatlantic energy trade and security and explore the tasks that lie ahead. 7:30 am April 26
- An Address by Secretary of State John Kerry. The Baker Institute will host the Honorable John F. Kerry for an address on the role of religion in foreign policy. This private event is open to Rice University students, faculty and staff and members of the Baker Institute Roundtable and Emerging Leaders only. 6:30 pm April 26
- Center for the Middle East: Student Research Showcase. Recipients of Center for the Middle East Student Research Grants and student participants of the Urban Lab: Middle East Program will present their field research, which was largely conducted in the Middle East with financial support from the Baker Institute. 6:30 pm May 2
- The Importance of Transatlantic Relations: Challenges of a World in Turmoil. His Excellency Peter Wittig, Germany's ambassador to the United States, is the featured speaker for this event. 6:30 pm May 11
- Roundtable Emerging Leaders Exclusive Reception with the Honorable James A. Baker, III. At this special event, former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, will reflect on his public service under three U.S. presidents and the founding of the Baker Institute. A reception will follow. This event is open to Emerging Leaders, Emerging Leader University members and their guests only. 5:30 pm May 17
- How Might Obamacare Change in 2017? Vivian Ho, director of the Baker Institute Center for Health and Biosciences, will discuss the current status of the U.S. health care system under Obamacare, and consider what modifications might be expected under a new Democratic or Republican administration. Noon June 3
For a complete list, visit our event page.
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Research and News
- Failure in Doha: Naimi Overruled as Saudis Double Down on Market Share Strategy, by Jim Krane, Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies. April 18
- Measuring the Volume-Outcome Relation for Complex Hospital Surgery, by Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics and director, Center for Health and Biosciences. April 15
- Protecting Kids: My Experience with Vaccine Refusal and Autism Awareness, by Peter J. Hotez, fellow in disease and poverty. April 15
- Women’s Political Representation and Authoritarianism in the Arab World, by Marwa Shalaby, fellow for the Middle East and director, Women's Rights in the Middle East Program. April 14
- Regulation in healthcare is no substitute for compassion, by Vivian Ho, James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics and director, Center for Health and Biosciences. April 13
- China Peak Diesel Poses a Serious Challenge to Saudi Arabia, May Help Force OPEC Production Cut, by Gabe Collins, nonresident scholar. April 12
- Brackish Groundwater: Current Status and Potential Benefits for Water Management, by Regina M. Buono, Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs; Katherine Zodrow, postdoctoral research associate; Pedro J.J. Alvarez, Rice faculty scholar; and Qilin Lee, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, Rice University. April 11
- Zika is Coming, by Peter J. Hotez, fellow in disease and poverty. April 8
For a complete list, visit our research library.
Baker Institute Blog
- Obama in Argentina: The relaunch of bilateral relations, by Maria Agostina Cacault, 2011 Americas Project fellow. April 20
- What's in a name? From DF to CDMX, by Lisa Guaqueta, program manager, Mexico Center; and Sandra Lopez, intern, Mexico Center. April 18
- Student blog: Unaccompanied alien children in the United States, Mexico and the Northern Triangle, by Marcela Benavides, intern, Mexico Center. April 18
For a complete list, visit our blog.