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Clinton: No consensus on Cuba at conference
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a rancorous Organization of American States conference in Honduras failed to reach a consensus on moves to allow Cuba to rejoin.
Clinton said before departing for Egypt to join President Obama that a day of negotiations had not produced agreement among the 34 members about what to do about Cuba. But she said the talks would continue in her absence and that a deal could be possible.
"At this moment there is no consensus and there is no agreement to take any action," she told reporters who accompanied her to Honduras and an earlier stop in El Salvador.
"Our challenge is to do nothing or to create a context that would give rise to consensus. How that plays out tonight and tomorrow is not clear," Clinton said.
The U.S. had wanted to tie Cuba's potential readmittance to the group to democratic reform. But socialist Latin American leaders, led by the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, wanted to simply revoke Cuba's nearly 50-year-old expulsion from the group.
"A number of countries were pushing hard for a simple resolution that would lift the suspension and nothing else, [but] we have been making the case that that is not in the best interests of the OAS," Clinton said.
She allowed that the U.S. was "pretty much by itself" in demanding that any lifting of Cuba's 1962 suspension from the organization be accompanied by demands for Cuba to move toward democratic pluralism, release political prisoners and respect human rights.
"We could support it given the right framework," Clinton said. She added, though, that "we don't agree with the bare-bones proposal if there is no action that is fine with us."
She claimed success in convincing some nations to join the U.S. side. She did not say who backed the U.S., although Brazil and Chile made supportive comments.
Clinton left the conference to attend Obama's Thursday speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.
She did so after seeking to use the administration's outreach to Cuba over the last four months to build support for the U.S. position, highlighting its lifting restrictions on money transfers and travel to the island by Americans with family there.
But her hard-line stand on democratic reforms left her isolated and prompted a barrage of Cold War era rhetoric from the growing number of leftist and populist leaders in the region.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said the United States is using the OAS as a tool of repression and said Cuba's 1962 suspension was due to the support of former Latin American dictators "imposed and used by the Yankees."
"The OAS continues to be an instrument of domination of the United States," the Sandinista leader told a news conference, accusing the Obama administration of being no different from previous administrations. "The president has changed, but not American policy."
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the host of the meeting, urged that the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba's membership be revoked during the session, calling its Cold War-era passage and the U.S. embargo on Cuba a "day of infamy" and a grave injustice.
"Friends, it is time to correct that mistake," he told the meeting. "Were we to leave this place without rescinding that decision ... we would be colluding with that mindset of yesterday."
Faced with a solid bloc of countries opposed to the U.S. conditions, diplomats said the ultimate outcome of Tuesday's meeting was in doubt and that a vote on Cuba may have to be delayed.
That prospect angered Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia, which were all pressing for a vote on Tuesday even though Cuba has expressed no interest in rejoining the bloc.
The organization generally makes decision by consensus, but proponents can push ahead with a resolution that needs only a two-thirds majority, or 23 votes, to pass.
Forcing a vote could put Clinton in a difficult position because regional and U.S. officials say there are easily enough countries to pass it unless a consensus emerged to delay action until the working group delivers its findings.