Cuba removed from terror designation list

The United States has removed Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, a significant step in normalizing relations between Washington and Havana.

The terror designation had been a major sticking point for the island nation since President Obama announced in December that the two countries would be restoring diplomatic relations after a half-century of hostility dating back to the Cold War. 

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Obama recommended to Congress last month that Cuba no longer be formally listed as nation cultivating terrorism, a move that triggered a 45-day notification period allowing U.S. lawmakers to step in and challenge the re-designation. Congress ultimately did not block the decision and, with the deadline on the notification period up, the State Department on Friday removed Cuba from the list.

"The rescission of Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,"spokesperson Jeff Rathke said in a statement. "While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation."

Cuba had been designated as a sponsor of terrorism since 1982. The list currently includes Iran, Sudan and Syria and imposes a number of economic and financial restrictions.

While the announcement overcomes a major obstacle in the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, significant hurdles in the process remain in place. Obama has faced stiff opposition from lawmakers in Congress who are against lifting the decades-long trade embargo. Other sanctions must also require consent from Congress to be removed.

Negotiations appeared to have been rocky between diplomats from both countries after officials failed last week to reach agreements on re-establishing embassies. More talks are expected in coming weeks.