It may not be his top concern, but Barack Obama is still having problems with Florida’s Cuban community. They are not thrilled by two advisors (including VP vetter Eric Holder) who participated in the Elian Gonzales episode and the ultimate decision to return the boy to Cuba.
On a broader issue, it is not clear where Obama is now on meeting with Raul Castro. Obama has spent much effort backpedaling on unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad. But does he still favor such meetings with Raul Castro?
From the February Democratic debate:
BROWN: Senator Obama, just to follow up, you had said in a previous CNN debate that you would meet with the leaders of Cuban, Iran, North Korea, among others, so presumably you would be willing to meet with the new leader of Cuba.
OBAMA: That’s correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century. I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. But I do think that it’s important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that’s where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.
Hillary Clinton later in that same debate had a different view:
Well, I agree, absolutely, that we should be willing to have diplomatic negotiations and processes with anyone. I’ve been a strong advocate of opening up such a diplomatic process with Iran, for a number of years. Because I think we should look for ways that we can possibly move countries that are adversarial to us, you know, toward the world community. It’s in our interests. It’s in the interests of the people in countries that, frankly, are oppressed, like Cuba, like Iran. But there has been this difference between us over when and whether the president should offer a meeting, without preconditions, with those with whom we do not have diplomatic relations. And it should be part of a process, but I don’t think it should be offered in the beginning. Because I think that undermines the capacity for us to actually take the measure of somebody like Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad and others.
Whether Obama is going to add this issue to his list of flips may depend on the degree to which he believes that Florida is in play. If it is, one can imagine that Obama will be sounding a lot more like Clinton on this one, and soon.