PANAMA CITY — Turning the page on a half-century of hostility, President Obama signaled Thursday he will soon remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, boosting hopes for improved ties as he prepared for a historic encounter with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Hours before his arrival in Panama for a regional summit, Obama announced that the U.S. State Department had finished its review of Cuba’s presence on the list, a stain on the island nation’s pride and a major stumbling block for efforts to mend U.S.-Cuba ties. Obama said he would decide quickly after receiving the formal recommendation, all but ensuring action within days.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said during a visit to Kingston, Jamaica. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”

Earlier, in Panama City, he called the list “a powerful tool to isolate countries that genuinely do support terrorism,” but he added that “as circumstance change that list will change as well.”

With his optimistic assessment, Obama sought to set the tone for the U.S. and Cuba to come closer to closing the book on more than a half-century of estrangement, when he and Castro come face to face at the Summit of the Americas. Obama was arriving Thursday evening in Panama City.

The highly anticipated interaction with Castro will test the power of personal diplomacy as the two leaders attempt to move past the sticking points that have interfered with their attempt to relaunch diplomatic relations.

The U.S. has long since stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism, and Obama has hinted at his willingness to take Cuba off the list ever since he and Castro announced a thaw in relations in December. Yet Obama has stopped short of the formal decision amid indications that the White House was reluctant to grant Cuba’s request until other thorny issues – such as restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Havana – were resolved.

Cuba is one of just four countries still on the U.S. list of countries accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism; Iran, Sudan and Syria are the others.


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