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Christie weighs in on Cuba move with demand in letter to Obama

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is putting his two cents in, and making a demand of his own.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands during a press conference on Sept. 24, 2014 at 7 World Trade Center in New York, N.Y. (Bryan Thomas/Getty)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands during a press conference on Sept. 24, 2014 at 7 World Trade Center in New York, N.Y.

Days after several potential 2016 contenders, including Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, weighed in on President Obama's announcement that the U.S. will move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is putting his two cents in, and making a demand of his own.

In a letter to Obama addressed Friday, the Republican governor said he does not believe the president's move was the right call, but still offered an “opportunity” for Cuba to show its commitment to change by returning Assata Shakur, formerly JoAnne Chesimard, to New Jersey, a cop convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. Deemed a domestic terrorist by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Shakur escaped from a New Jersey prison in made-for-the-movies fashion in 1979 and found her way to Cuba, where she was eventually granted asylum under Fidel Castro in 1984. The opportunity, as the governor puts it, for Cuba to release her back to New Jersey would undoubtedly benefit Christie as he weighs his decision to run for president. 

Related: As U.S.-Cuba tension thaws, the fate of a fugitive is in question

“I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people," Christie wrote in the letter to Obama, first reported by FOX New Sunday. 

"However, despite my profound disagreement with this decision, I believe there is an opportunity for Cuba and its government to show the American people it is serious about change ... I urge you to demand the immediate return of Chesimard before any further consideration of restoration of diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government," he continued. 

Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen said in a statement that the White House and State Department needs to work “much harder to bring this murderer ‘home’ to New Jersey where she can face justice and serve out her sentence.” And acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman told msnbc in a statement that with America’s decision to ease relations with Cuba, "We remain ever hopeful in our resolve to bring Joanne Chesimard to justice. We will be working closely with federal authorities as we explore ways to apprehend her and return her to her rightful place in a New Jersey prison."

Acknowledging that five decades of a strict embargo failed to bring about a change in Cuban leadership, the Obama administration last Wednesday declared it was time to chart a new course that would allow the United States to resume a leadership role in Latin America and foster change through contacts instead of isolation. The terms of the deal were finalized in a 45-minute phone call Tuesday between Obama and Castro, marking the first direct contact between leaders of those two countries in decades.

Former Secretary of State and likely future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came out in support of the new policy on Cuba that evening, saying she has long believed the best way to help Cuba is to expose the country more to the outside world.

Meanwhile, leading Republicans' reactions have been conflicted. While Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul came out in favor of ending America’s longstanding prohibition on trade and travel with communist Cuba, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the move "the latest foreign policy misstep by this president, and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority." Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also went on the attack, criticizing the deal as one-sided and lashing out on Paul for his support of Obama on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

According to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey voters, just 44% of respondents said they feel favorable toward Christie. "Voters remain divided on how Christie is doing," said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagle Center for Public Interest Polling and professor at Rutgers University.

"Without any recent marquee policy win and with the bloom of Sandy recovery long gone, we seem to have settled into a stasis where Democrats dislike Christie, Republicans still support him and independents are mostly split down the middle," Redlawsk said.