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Obama: US Can Affect Youth in Cuba     12/21 07:39

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said his plan to normalize 
relations with Cuba gives the U.S. a chance to influence events at an important 
moment of change for the communist nation, and he brushed off critics who 
accuse him of kowtowing to dictators.

   Obama said a half-century of trying to push out the Castro government 
through isolation has not worked. He said his administration is taking a look 
at whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, 
acknowledging that Havana's inclusion makes it difficult for the U.S. to pursue 
closer ties.

   "If we engage, we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at 
a time when there's going to be some generational change in that country," 
Obama told CNN's "State of the Union" in an interview set to air Sunday. "And I 
think we should seize it and I intend to do so."

   Obama's move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba elicited cheers from 
longtime opponents of the strict U.S. position toward Cuba. But his 
announcement last week also drew fierce opposition, including from some U.S. 
lawmakers in both parties who said Obama failed to win any commitments from 
Cuba to democratize before the easing of U.S. penalties and travel restrictions.

   On Saturday, Cuban opposition leaders in Miami joined Cuban-American 
politicians and activists, pledging to oppose Obama's plan.

   Cuban President Raul Castro, speaking to his National Assembly, said that 
Cuba would not renounce its communist system despite the normalization of ties 
with the U.S. He paraded three convicted spies just released from U.S. prison, 
and they shook their fists in victory in front of parliament.

   Obama said it's wrong to accuse him of letting dictators outmaneuver him, 
citing Russian President Vladimir Putin as an example. After all, Russia's 
currency is now collapsing under the weight of U.S. and European penalties, he 
pointed out.

   "There is this knee-jerk sense, I think, on the part of some in the foreign 
policy establishment that, you know, shooting first and thinking about it 
second projects strength," Obama said.

   "We have been very firm with respect to those countries that we think are 
violating international law or are acting against our interests. But I have 
been consistent in saying that where we can solve problems diplomatically, we 
should do so."


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