alan gross_311 reuters.
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
WASHINGTON - US officials met Cuban officials recently to discuss the case of Alan Gross, a Jewish-American aid contractor imprisoned on the communist-ruled island, US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Friday.
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But she declined to comment on a US media report which said Washington offered to let a convicted Cuban spy freed last week from a US jail, Rene Gonzalez, return home immediately in exchange for Havana's release of Gross.
The Associated Press report, citing unnamed US officials, said Cuba rebuffed the American offer to lift parole restrictions requiring Gonzalez to remain in the United States for three years. Havana asked that Washington also pardon at least some of the four other Cuban spies who were jailed along with Gonzalez in 2001, according to the report.
"I can confirm that a meeting between US officials and the Cubans did take place as part of our efforts to get Alan Gross home," Sherman told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, adding the meeting was "quite recent."
"I cannot comment on what was said in that meeting," she said.
Gross was sentenced in Cuba this year to 15 years in prison for crimes
against the Cuban state. When arrested in 2009, the contractor was
working for a US Agency for International Development (USAID)
pro-democracy program and was accused by Havana of illegally
distributing Internet and satellite communications equipment on the
US President Barack Obama's administration, which has eased restrictions
on US travel and remittances to the Caribbean island, has said Gross
must be released before any further moves to improve US-Cuba ties can go
The release a week ago of Gonzalez, a Cuban intelligence agent jailed
for spying on Cuban exiles, raised some speculation that he could be
exchanged for Gross. Gonzalez had served 13 years of his 15-year
sentence in the United States.
"We have always said we would use all diplomatic channels to try to get
Alan Gross home. We continue to call on the Cuban government to release
Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds, and to allow him to return to his
family and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year
and a half ago," Sherman told lawmakers.
Gonzalez, 55, was the first to be freed of the so-called "Cuban Five" espionage agents arrested in 1998.
Gonzalez left the jail in Florida but his original sentence included the
condition that he spend three years of supervised release in the United
Cuba's government and Gonzalez' family and supporters are demanding he
be allowed to immediately leave the United States, saying he is at risk
from possible reprisals by the Cuban exiles on whom he was convicted of
Representative David Rivera, a Republican from Miami, which has a large
Cuban-American population, told Sherman he was angered by the Associated
Press report that US officials as well as a former US state governor,
Bill Richardson, had discussed with the Cubans a possible swap of
Gonzalez for Gross.
It was "outrageous," Rivera said, "that we would be negotiating with a
terrorist regime to release an American hostage." Cuba is on the
official US list of state sponsors of terrorism.