US-Cuba rapprochement 'overdue': Canadian PM

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses media in Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canda on June 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Cole Burston)
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Ottawa (AFP) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed as "overdue" moves to end the decades-old US-Cuba standoff Wednesday, proudly noting Ottawa's role in hosting negotiators from the two countries for the breakthrough talks.

The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic ties since 1961, and the first meeting between their diplomats was in June 2013 in Canada. Several other meetings have been held there since.

"I don't want to exaggerate Canada's role, we facilitated places where the two countries could have a dialogue and explore ways of normalizing the relationship. And that is what we did," Harper told public broadcaster CBC.

"We think it's a good development, probably an overdue development. I personally believe changes are coming in Cuba and this will facilitate those."

Canada is one of the few countries in the Americas never to have broken off diplomatic relations with Cuba after Fidel Castro-led communists took power in 1959.

US tourists interested in traveling to the island -- which is restricted under current US law -- have often used Canada as a transit point.

"We were not in any way trying to direct or mediate the talks. We were just trying to make sure they had the opportunity to have the kind of dialogue they needed to have," said Harper.

"Well, I believe that changes are coming to Cuba, there are some changes taking place now, they are very slow, but I think it's an economy and a society just overdue for entry in the 21st Century and time will tell.

"But I believe that when the current generation of leadership passes you will see some changes."

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