U.S. offers Cuba expanded entry

UNITED NATIONS — UNITED NATIONS -- U.S. and Cuban negotiators made progress yesterday in talks focusing on a proposal by the Clinton administration to vastly increase the number of Cubans who would be granted entry through legal means if Havana agreed to halt the flow of boat people, U.S. officials said.

Meeting for eight hours on the second day of talks, the administration gave the Cubans a formal written offer that would commit the United States to admit at least 20,000 Cubans a year through legal immigration, far more than the 2,700 who received visas over the past 12 months, the officials said.


The administration's hope was that this offer, which meets a longstanding demand of Fidel Castro, would induce him to halt the exodus of Cubans.

One administration official said the two sides appeared close to agreement, with the Cubans carefully analyzing the U.S. offer. But another official warned that so many details still needed to be worked out that an accord could easily fall through.


"We're not there yet," said one administration official.

Last night, the two sides announced that the talks would be adjourned until tomorrow.

The number of Cubans picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard dropped yesterday from Thursday. The Coast Guard reported that 972 Cubans had been picked up in the Florida Straits by 5 p.m. yesterday, compared with 1,921 on all of Thursday.

One official said the flow slowed because a backlog of Cubans waiting to flee after last weekend's storm had dissipated.

David Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. delegation, said that the session at the Cuban mission to the United Nations yesterday was "a thorough, in-depth discussion of possible solutions."

From the public comments of the two sides, it appeared that the Cubans' insistence that the talks address not just immigration -- issues, but also ways to ease Washington's economic sanctions against Cuba, could become a sticking point.

To reach the 20,000 mark, U.S. officials said they probably would grant quick admission to the 19,700 Cubans on a list of more than 3 million people worldwide waiting for visas. Then, they say they would relax the traditionally strict standards for political refugee status so that more Cubans could qualify.

Another likely step will be for the attorney general to admit a sizable group of Cubans who do not qualify for visas, including cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents of Cuban-Americans. Current law allows in only members of immediate families: spouses, children, parents and siblings.


At the talks, the Clinton administration has urged Cuba to take back more than 1,500 former Cuban prisoners who arrived as part of the Mariel exodus.