Jorge Alberto Bolanos Suarez, the new head of the Cuban interest section, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008, at Cuban Interests Section in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

By MATTHEW LEE | Associated Press

Cuba is not interested in improving relations with the United States while President Bush is in office and will wait for a change in U.S. leadership before extending anew an offer for dialogue, Cuba’s top diplomat in the U.S. said Thursday.

As the island nation heads into weekend parliamentary elections that undoubtedly will extend the ailing Fidel Castro’s grip on power, Havana is looking to America’s vote in November to decide whether it wants to talk to Washington, said Jorge Alberto Bolanos Suarez, head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he said Cuban offers for dialogue with the United States made by Castro’s brother, Raul, after he took day-to-day control of the government in 2006 were not intended for the Bush administration, which staunchly supports the nearly 46-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that was designed to choke off funds to the Castro government in an effort to force a change in the communist system there.

“When Raul spoke about it he was not referring to the present administration,” Bolanos said. “He was speaking clearly that after the U.S. elections, the new (U.S.) government should take a position with regard to Cuba.

“That is the time when Cuba would be ready to dialogue on the basis of mutual respect, without the arrogance that has always colored the U.S. position,” he said in Spanish. “I’m not concerned what the current State Department says because we are waiting for what the next one has to say about Cuba.”

Soon after emergency intestinal surgery forced Castro in July 2006 to cede power to a provisional government headed by his brother, Raul Castro reached out for dialogue with the U.S. government as long as Cuba’s sovereignty was respected. He repeated the offer in December 2006 in a sign he had consolidated his leadership during Fidel’s absence.

Many longtime Cuba watchers consider Raul the more pragmatic of the Castros, and likely to communicate better with Washington. At the time of the offers, the State Department brushed them off, saying Castro should open a dialogue with his people, end the one-party communist political system and hold free and fair elections.

Bolanos’ comments on Thursday appeared to indicate that Havana is digging in its heels, refusing all but cursory contact with the United States until Bush, who has pursued strong anti-Castro policies for his seven years as president so far, is gone in January 2009.


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