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Is it time for Obama to simply ask Cuba's President Castro to free Alan Gross?

US officials are proposing new measures to force Cuba to release USAID worker Alan Gross from prison, but guest blogger Anya Landau French suggests trying something different.

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Back in the spring, former President Jimmy Carter met with Raul Castro and came away with the impression that Castro wanted to release Gross.  But since then, Cuban officials have given mixed signals: Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez offered some, if vague, hope for a solution while Alarcon has repeatedly said that Cuba won’t be releasing him unilaterally.

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If Judy Gross is right that the Obama administration’s efforts are constrained by election year politics, her husband could have a long year ahead of him.  Mrs. Gross, understandably, doesn’t want to wait.

“I'd love for President Obama to pick up the telephone or send an email, and try to take the first step and say 'let's sit down to negotiate,” she says.

Now, it’s a ridiculous idea, but what if President Obama picked up the phone and called President Castro, and requested Mr. Gross’s release?  Might Castro fulfill such a request made directly by a sitting US president?  Aside from wanting America’s bilateral and extraterritorial trade and financial restrictions against Cuba lifted, wanting to be removed from all of the various US blacklists it feels it shouldn’t be on, wanting the Cuban Five returned, wanting the US to stop funding efforts to bring down its government, and besides simply wanting to be left alone to solve its own problems (and it has plenty of them), what Cuba wants from the United States is to be treated like a sovereign nation.  When one president phones another, that surely fits the bill.

A few intractable detractors would call it Obama’s love fest with a dictator.  But if Obama didn’t actually give anything up, nor afterward profess to having seen into Castro’s soul (ahem, when President Bush met Russia's then-President Vladimir Putin) and he won freedom for an American citizen, that’s all that anyone else would care about.

Yes, it’s a ridiculous idea.  Neither side would go along with it.  Anyone got a better idea?

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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