The United States and Cuba moved one step closer to restoring formal relations today after the Obama Administration officially removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The news comes after the two countries expressed optimism last week that a larger deal that would re-establish embassies and allow for direct travel to and from each country was within reach.  Removal from the list was one of the major demands Cuba requested in its talks with the U.S. that began earlier this year.

In a statement released by the State Department on its website, department spokesman Jeff Rathke says that while policy issues between the countries still exist, ” Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” More from Mr. Rathke below:

“The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission. While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

Last week, State Department official Roberta Jacobson told the media that while the U.S. and Cuba could not lock down a deal at the end of last week, the talks were “highly productive” and said that specific details could be negotiated between lower-level officials.

While others hurdles must be cleared to restore full diplomatic relations between the former Cold War foes, U.S. citizens are already flocking to the island nation in waves. According to The Guardian, the number of Americans that have visited Cuba since the beginning of the year has increased nearly 40% over last year. The majority of Americans visiting the island are going by way of Mexico since the U.S. tourism travel ban to Cuba remains in effect for now.  Still, The Guardian reports that over 38,000 Americans had traveled directly to Cuba from the States, nearly 10,000 more than the same time period last year.




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