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Castro signals Reagan: 'Let's at least talk'

By James Nelson GoodsellLatin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 1981



Caracas

Cuba is quietly letting the Reagan administration know that it would welcome a dialogue on issues dividng the two countries. Although the possibility of any Cuba-United States rapprochement would appear remote, given President Reagan's views on the subject, the Cubans nevertheless do not rule out the possibility.

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Indeed, they are letting the US know that they would like to expore it.

Cuban diplomats throughout Latin America have sought out their US counterparts at events during the past month.

Their message: Let's at least talk.

They know perfectly well that Mr. Reagan has taken a hard line on any improvement of relations with Cuba, but the Cuban view holds that this may be more a domestic ploy to satisfy the President's supporters than a hard-and-fast policy decision.

They note, for example, that Mr. Reagan included Ramon Sanchez Parodi, head of the Cuban interest section in Washington, when he invited the Washington diplomatic corps to one of his first receptions.

Mr. Sanchez Parodi, who has been head of the Cuban diplomatic team in Washington since it was set up three years ago, had not been invited to the Carter White House -- on the legitimate technicality that he merely headed up a section within the Czechoslovakian Embassy.

That nicety did not seem to bother Mr. Reagan.

And Cubans are asking just what it means. They wonder also whether Mr. Reagan may not want a foreign-policy breakthrough like Mr. Nixon's major overture to China.

The Cubans have little to go on -- and, moreover, they are most unclear about the people who are being appointed to jobs involving Latin American in the Reagan administration.

Like many other Latin Americans, they know little about James R. Greene, the American Express executive whose name keeps coming up for the post of assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs. They are not aware, for example, that it was Mr. Green who successfully negotiated the difficult US agreement with Peru on expropriation claims dating back to the 1968 takeover of the International Petroleum Company.

On the other hand, they know a great deal about Mr. Reagan's background and his views. They suspect that he is interested in leaving a good mark in the history books, and they wonder if one of the ways he might do this is through a major movement to normalize relations with Cuba.

Specifically, they suggest there is whole list of issues upon which dialogue could proceed immediately. Among them: the expropriation of US businesses, dating from the time soon after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959; the exchange of culture and technology; the enlargement of the diplomatic presence in each other's capitals; further accords on skyjackers; economic matters; and air routes.

In addition, the Cubans indicate that there could be talks on the Guantanamo naval base on the south coast of Cuba (which the US rents), US spy flights over the island, Cuban demands for indemnification on a variety of issues, and more prisoner exchanges.

They quickly note, however, that there can be no discussion on one issue: the 20-year-old US blockade of the island. It must end, they say.

Moreover, some of the issues the Cubans are willing to discuss -- such as Guantanamo, indemnification, and spy flights -- would appear to be issues on which the US may not be willing to negotiate any immediate accords.

The Cubans are also adamant that the Cuban troop presence in Angola is essentially a domestic matter comparable to the US troop presence in South Korea , an item that came up only last week with the visit of South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan to the White House. In effect, the Cubans are saying: If you don't like the presence of Cuban's in Angola, we don't like the presence of North Americans in South Korea.

The Cubans appear reluctant to discuss El Salvador -- and the US contends that the Cubans are actively assisting leftist guerrillas there. Apart from denying they are involved, the issues do not appear to be one they want to discuss in detail, at least at this moment.

What lies behind the Cuban effort to find accommodation with Washington can only be guessed at. For one thing, Cubans readily admit that the 20-year strain in relations has gone on l ong enough. They are ready for new initiatives.