SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off a two-day diplomatic conference in Central America Tuesday by reaffirming Washington's new outlook on Cuba -- and urging hemispheric nations to stay true to democratic values.
Cuba is expected to overshadow the 100-item agenda at the 39th general assembly of the Organization of American States, a hemispheric group founded in 1948. Cuba's membership was suspended 14 years later, and now several of its allies are pushing hard for the hemisphere's only communist nation to be allowed back in, despite an organization rule that requires democracy.
The OAS council charged with coming up with a resolution to make that happen failed to agree on a proposal for the foreign ministers assembled here to agree on. They are expected to tackle the topic Tuesday.
Washington is proposing that the OAS study the issue for a year, but Nicaragua and other nations are pushing for Cuba's suspension to be lifted now.
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At a breakfast Tuesday with the Caribbean ministers, Clinton stressed that President Barack Obama is revamping Cuba policy -- but that doesn't mean the OAS should give up on its democratic principles.
"I want to emphasize the United States under President Obama is taking a completely new approach to our policy toward Cuba: We have eased restrictions on family travel and remittances," Clinton said. "As I was getting ready in my hotel room this morning, I had CNN on and I saw just a tearful reunion between a man and his little baby boy who he hadn't seen in a year and a half because of the prior travel restrictions."
She said Washington had authorized telecommunications links with Cuba and had resumed bilateral talks on immigration and direct mail.
"We do look forward to the day when Cuba can join the OAS, but we believe membership in the OAS comes with responsibilities, and we owe it to each other to uphold our standards of democracy and governance that have brought so much progress to our hemisphere," she said. "This is not about reliving the past. It's about the future and being true to the founding principles of this organization."
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