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Biden policy on Cuba remittances needs more work -U.S. official

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November 5, 2021

By Matt Spetalnick and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House received recommendations from a government working group on restarting remittances to Cuba but sent some back for further work to ensure that money sent by Cuban Americans to families on the island does not fall into the hands of the Cuban government, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden had asked the Treasury and State departments in July to report back on how to allow remittance payments – a financial lifeline for many Cubans – without the Cuban government and military profiting.

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The Biden administration has slapped sanctions on Cuban officials and security forces in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters in July.

Strict limits on remittances were imposed by former President Donald Trump, who rolled back the historic rapprochement that his predecessor, Barack Obama, oversaw between the United States and its old Cold War foe.

Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, had promised during the 2020 presidential campaign to re-enage with Cuba’s communist government.

But relations have remained tense, especially since protests erupted in July amid severe economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections at the time. Thousands took to the streets, angry over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties, and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic, and scores were arrested.

“We have received the recommendations of the State Department-Treasury Remittance Working Group,” the senior Biden administration official told reporters while declining to offer details on those ideas.

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“We’ve sent some of those back because because … what the president has said publicly is that we are willing to restart remittance flows, but want to ensure that … the Cuban military is not deriving benefit from from that,” the official added.

The official said Biden has instructed his aides to develop a “third way” that is “tough on the regime and soft on the Cuban people.” The administration is consulting with Democrats and Republicans as well as the Cuban exile community, the official said.

Biden officials are mindful that any easing of restrictions on Cuba could lead to political fallout from conservative Cuban Americans. They make up a large voting bloc in south Florida and mostly backed Trump’s tough policies toward Havana, helping him to win the important swing state – though he lost the election to Biden.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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