The United States on Tuesday voted against a U.N. resolution condemning its embargo on Cuba, even though President Barack Obama has called on Congress to lift the trade restrictions.
The vote was the first since the U.S. and Cuban leaders agreed to restore diplomatic ties last December, and the U.S. had considered taking the unprecedented step of abstaining.
The General Assembly voted 191-2 to condemn the commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba, the highest number of votes ever for the measure. Only Israel joined the United States in opposing the resolution, and when the vote lit up on the screen many diplomats jumped to their feet in a standing ovation.
General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and unenforceable but the annual exercise — now in its 24th year — has given Cuba a global stage to demonstrate America's isolation on the embargo and its Cuba policy.
The Associated Press reported last month that the United States considered abstaining in hopes of pressuring Congress to end the embargo.
Instead, the U.S. decided to vote against the resolution as it has since 1992, telling AP last month and saying again Tuesday that the measure didn't reflect "the spirit of engagement" between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
U.S. deputy ambassador Ronald Godard told the assembly before the vote that the Cuban government is "mistaken" if it thinks the measure will improve efforts to normalize relations.
He said it was "unfortunate" that Cuba decided to introduce a resolution whose text "falls short of reflecting the significant steps that have been taken and the spirit of engagement President Obama has championed."
Nonetheless, he said the United States "will not be bound by a history of mistrust" and remains committed to working toward normalizing relations with Cuba, a process he said will require "years of persistence and dedication on both sides."
Obama and Castro announced last Dec. 17 that they were restoring diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1961 after Fidel Castro took power and installed a communist government.
On July 20, diplomatic relations were restored and embassies of the two countries were reopened, but serious issues remain, especially the U.S. call for human rights on the Caribbean island and claims for expropriated property.
The resolution welcomes the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and recognizes "the expressed will" of Obama to work for the elimination of the embargo.
Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a news conference he was "disappointed" with the U.S. vote and said it was not necessary to reply to Godard's explanation of the U.S. vote.
"First and foremost what needs to be modified is the reality of the implementation of the blockade, not the text of the resolution," he said.
Rodriguez said the United States must lift the embargo to fully normalize relations.
"The lifting of the blockade will be the essential element to give some meaning to the progress achieved over the past few months in the relations between both countries and shall set the pace towards normalization," he told the General Assembly.
He said it is "a unilateral act of the United States and should be lifted unilaterally, without asking anything in return."
But many Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, oppose lifting the embargo at this stage, and Rodriguez was critical not only of the U.S. Congress but of Obama's failure to take executive action to ease it.
The Cuban foreign minister said the embargo isolates the United States and goes against its national interest and as long as it remains in effect Cuba will continue to present its annual resolution to the General Assembly.
Despite the U.S. vote, Rodriguez said, "Cuba will continue to do its best to improve relations with the United States."