The top U.S. State Department official dealing with Latin America brought up the plight of Alan Gross in a rare meeting with her Cuban counterpart.
Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, met in Washington May 15 with Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry’s director general for U.S. affairs.
“Among other issues, the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross was discussed during the meeting,” said a State Department official responding Monday to repeated JTA queries about the meeting, which was posted on the State Department’s daily schedule.
“We reiterated again how important it is to the United States that Alan be able to return home and be reunited with his family,” said the official.
Meetings at such a senior level between U.S. and Cuban officials are rare.
Gross is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”
On a mission to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. He was convicted in 2011.
Vidal has indicated in interviews since Gross’ arrest that Cuba was seeking the return to Cuba of five imprisoned spies in return for Gross. So far, two of the “Cuban Five” have been released earlier than maximum time served and have returned to the island.
Separately, a group of 44 former officials from Republican and Democratic administrations and Cuban American community leaders wrote President Obama urging him to welcome Cuban reforms by opening up ties with the country.
The letter, reported Monday by Reuters, said Obama should condition such concessions on Cuban moves to release Gross. The Cuban Americans among those signing favor loosening restrictions on relations with Cuba; much of the community still favors keeping restrictions in place.
Earlier last week, Jacobson also had a closed meeting with Yitzhak Shoham, her counterpart in Israel’s foreign ministry. Shoham was in Washington to attend the annual American Jewish Committee conference.
After their meeting, Shoham and Jacobson both attended an AJC memorial for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. Argentinean prosecutors believe Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was behind the bombing.