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Gilbert, joined by Judy Gross, visited Havana four times this year. In May he met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who Gilbert said discussed an offer that struck the Gross family and supporters as novel: Cuba is no longer tying a possible Gross release to America’s setting free a group of five Cuban intelligence operatives arrested in 1998 in Miami. One of the members of the group, known as the Cuban Five, was allowed to return to Cuba earlier this year.
Rodriguez, said Gilbert, made clear in the meeting that he is willing to come to the U.S. to negotiate Alan Gross’s release. But the foreign minister struck a more cautious and possibly contradictory tone in an interview with Agence France-Presse later that month, in which he stated Cuba’s “readiness to open serious, respectful talks,” while noting these talks would also have to take into account “reciprocal humanitarian concerns in the case of the other Cuban citizens still detained in the United States.” Though this does point to preconditions, it is still a much softer statement than those issued in the past, which did explicitly mention the Cuban Five.
Judy Gross called the administration’s insistence on “unconditional” negotiations with Cuba, a “death sentence for Alan.”
The Obama administration would not directly address a possible change in the Cuban demands, but rejected claims that it is not sufficiently active in its efforts to release Gross. “Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release remains a top priority of the United States,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf. White House spokesman Jay Carney, in his daily press briefing, said President Obama “has himself personally engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote Mr. Gross’s releases.”
Activists have also seen another glimmer of hope fade, when John Kerry took over the helm of the U.S. Department of State. As a senator, Kerry reportedly met with Cuban officials in an attempt to negotiate a deal for the release of Gross, but after taking office he did not take on the issue and Gross’s case has not reached the department’s top echelons. Speaking to reporters in Brussels on December 3, Kerry said that American diplomats are actively engaged in trying to bring about the release of captive Americans, but that “these things are often best resolved in quiet diplomacy, under the radar screen.”