September 21, 2018 / 4:08 AM / a month ago

Cuba's president meets U.S. Senator Corker amid tense bilateral relations

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who is on a trip to Havana to discuss tense bilateral relations and other “matters of common interest”, state-run media reported on Thursday.

Newly elected Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel is seen during the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, April 19, 2018. Desmond Boylan/Pool via Reuters

Corker, a Republican but also a frequent critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, is the highest-ranking U.S. official that Diaz-Canel has met since succeeding Raul Castro as president in April. He is due to retire from the Senate later this year.

Relations between the old Cold War foes have deteriorated over the past year due to Trump’s hostile stance on the Communist-run island and what the United States has called a spate of “health attacks” on its diplomats in Havana.

Cuba denies any involvement and government officials have said they believe there were never any attacks, which they described as a pretext to justify conflict.

Diaz-Canel was expected to travel to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly next week but said in an interview broadcast on Sunday he could not talk with Trump as long as his administration kept its “abnormal” attitude toward the island.

The Trump administration has tightened the trade and travel embargo on Cuba and sharply reduced embassy staffing in Havana from more than 50 to a maximum 18.

Cuba’s ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma said the top U.S. top diplomat in Cuba, Mara Tekach, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and the ministry’s director of U.S. affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio also participated in Thursday’s meeting.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Paul Tait

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