No 'official' US delegation for Castro funeral

People walk in Havana near a painting depicting Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, on November 29, 2016 (AFP Photo/Juan BARRETO) (AFP)

Washington (AFP) - The United States will send two senior officials to Fidel Castro's memorial service Tuesday, but not as part of an official delegation -- a diplomatic fudge designed to avoid offending Havana.

The White House said it would not dispatch an official delegation -- which usually includes top officials, diplomats, lawmakers and other notables -- but would send Obama's close advisor Ben Rhodes and the top US diplomat in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

"The president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"We continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people."

Rhodes was one of the architects of Obama's diplomatic thaw with Cuba, which has seen the two countries try to move beyond decades of Cold War animosity.

During the depths of that conflict, the CIA had repeatedly tried to kill the long-time Cuban leader, who stepped down as president in 2006 because of illness.

Relations have improved markedly, but America's continued embargo and Cuba's suppression of political opposition mean differences remain.

Obama decided not to meet Fidel Castro when he visited Havana earlier this year. Instead, he opted to speak with his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro.

While the post-Fidel era in Cuba de facto began years ago, his brother Raul and nephew Alejandro Castro Espin are among the family members who remain major power players, so the White House was keen to avoid undue offense.

Sending an official delegation could also risk exacerbating differences between Obama and his successor Donald Trump, who has threatened to "terminate" the US-Cuba thaw.

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