President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than five decades, Reuters reported.
The appointment of DeLaurentis, who has been the top American official at the U.S. embassy in Havana since relations were restored last year, is the latest step in Obama’s attempts to normalize ties between the former Cold War foes before he leaves office in January.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December of 2014 that ties between the countries would be restored.
The announcement followed several steps, including the United States officially dropping Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as a scheduled airline service, increased co-operation on law enforcement and environmental protection.
The moves culminated in Obama visiting the island this past March, the first official visit to the country by an American president after decades of hostility.
The nomination DeLaurentis must be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, noted Reuters, but that is seen as a long shot to occur, especially in a presidential election year and given strong resistance expected from Cuban-American lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
"Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries,” Obama said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
DeLaurentis had been widely tipped as Obama’s favorite for the post, but he held off naming him until now despite Cuba’s appointment of its own ambassador to Washington shortly after embassies were reopened in both countries’ capitals in July of last year. He would be the first U.S. envoy to Cuba in 55 years.
Despite the lifting of some restrictions on Cuba, the U.S. embargo against the island remains in place and can only be lifted by Congress. However, the Republican-controlled legislature is not expected to do so anytime soon.