Obama will send deputy national security adviser to Castro’s funeral
By Melanie Hunter | November 30, 2016, 9:24 EDT
(CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has decided against sending a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but instead the deputy national security adviser and the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba will attend the service.
“The president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today. I can tell you however that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes will attend the service, as will the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Jeff Delaurentis,” Earnest said when asked whether the U.S. would send a delegation to Castro’s funeral.
“Those of you who have been following this story closely the last couple of years know that Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago. He has been the principal interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully,” Earnest noted.
“He actually, as a part of those responsibilities, he has the occasion to travel to Cuba occasionally to further implement this policy. He actually was already planning to travel to Cuba this week, so in addition to the meetings he that already has on his schedule with Cuban government officials and with officials at the U.S. embassy, he also will be attending the service that the Cuban government has planned for this evening, and as I mentioned, he’ll be attending with the top diplomat on the island, Ambassador Delaurentis,” he added.
“So I guess it begs the question, if two high-ranking U.S. officials – a national security official who’s worked on Cuba and the ambassador – are attending, how is that not a U.S. delegation?” a reporter asked.
“There’s a formal process where the president would designate a presidential delegation to travel to Cuba specifically to represent the United States at a foreign event. Sometimes it’s an inauguration. Sometimes it’s a coronation. Sometimes it’s a funeral,” Earnest responded.
“That will not be taking place this time, but the United States will be represented at the event by our top diplomat on the island and by a senior White House official who will be traveling to Cuba,” he added.
When asked to explain the “thinking behind not designating a formal delegation,” Earnest said, “so much of the US diplomatic relationship with Cuba is quite complicated.”
“There are many aspects of the US Cuba relationship that were characterized by conflict and turmoil – not just during the Castro regime – but we continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people,” Earnest said.
“So we believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing, future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people, and this was an appropriate way to show respect, to participate in the events that were planned for this evening, while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries,” he added.