New Jersey U.S. Senator Robert Menendez is pressing his case against any Obama administration plan to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying the communist-ruled island is harboring dozens of U.S. fugitives.
In letters released on Thursday, Menendez wrote about the fugitives to Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI director James Comey, asking that the issue be raised in upcoming talks with Cuban officials and contending that Havana should remain on the list.
"It is essential to recognize that the Castro regime has a long track record of providing sanctuary to terrorists and harboring U.S. fugitives who have murdered American citizens, while undermining international security," Menendez wrote to Kerry.
Menendez asked Comey to provide a full list of fugitives from the U.S. justice system who are in Cuba and information about their status.
Menendez, a Cuban-American who is the top Democrat on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out repeatedly against President Barack Obama's moves toward normalizing relations with Havana.
Cuban officials have been pushing for Washington to quickly remove their country from the list, which among other things prevents international banks from doing business with Havana. Congressional and diplomatic sources have said they expect the Obama administration to do so within the next month.
A senior Cuban official said on Wednesday Havana would agree to restore diplomatic relations with the United States in time for the April Summit of the Americas if Washington removes Havana from the list quickly and convincingly.
The official spoke to reporters ahead of a second round of negotiations between the longtime adversaries in Washington on Friday, following Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro's agreement on Dec. 17 to exchange prisoners and restore diplomatic ties for the first time in more than half a century.
One of the U.S. fugitives in Cuba is Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing a state trooper in New Jersey, Menendez's home state.