KINGSTON, Ontario (AP) - A top Cuban official on Thursday said Cuba is willing to discuss everything with the Obama administration, but it won't give up its form of government in talks to improve relations.
The comments by the director of Cuba's Foreign Ministry's North American Department echoed the sentiments of President Raul Castro, who has said repeatedly that officials would be willing to sit down for direct talks with U.S. leaders as long as his country's sovereignty is not threatened.
President Barack Obama has suggested it may be time for a new beginning with Cuba, and the White House authorized unlimited travel and money transfer for Americans with relatives in Cuba. But his administration has said it would like Cuba to respond by making small political and social changes to its single-party communist system.
Castro has bristled at that suggestion.
"Cuba cannot be asked to give up its form of government as a condition to establish normal relations with the United States. That position is a nonstarter. It will lead us no where," the Cuban official, Josefina Vidal, said at the start of a Cuban academic conference in Canada. "In doing so, the United States would make the same mistake that previous governments have done."
She said dialogue should occur without preconditions.
The conference is examining the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Cuba revolution. Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon is scheduled to give a speech Saturday.
The U.S. has long sought what it considers real change from Cuba in the areas of human rights, free speech, free markets and democracy.
Last month, President Raul Castro said Cuba was willing to discuss "everything" with the U.S., leading to hopes that a door was opening to a new relationship.
But former president Fidel Castro insists that Cuba should make no concessions in return for better U.S. ties.
"Cuba is ready is to discuss everything but not to negotiate its sovereignty or its political or social system," Vidal repeated.
Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, said the United States must not ignore Cuba's difficult past.
"Just like Obama cannot ignore his experiences as a black man in the United States, Cuba cannot forget its history as a country that's been blocked under the embargo for all of these years," she said in an interview. "You can never ignore your biography - neither your personal biography or your biography as a country."
The Obama administration has said it has no plans to lift the embargo which bans nearly all trade with Cuba. The island's government blames those sanctions for frequent shortages of food, medicine, farming and transportation machinery and other basics.
"The day the blockade is over and we have normal communication between our two countries, we will be free in Cuba to devote all our efforts and resources just to the development of our nation and not to think about ways to avoid the pressures and the obstacles the U.S. blockade signifies in Cuba," Vidal said.
Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University and former President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser for Latin America, said that day will come, but not soon.
"I hope before too long we can have a conference like this in Washington," Pastor said in a speech. "But don't book your tickets quite yet."
Associated Press Writer Will Weissert in Havana contributed to this report.
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