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Rare U.S.-Cuba talks to explore resuming mail services

People walk outside a Cuban post office in Havana August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa
People walk outside a Cuban post office in Havana August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba are exploring the possibility of resuming direct mail services between the two countries after a 50-year ban, U.S. officials with knowledge of the talks said on Monday.

Representatives from the U.S. State Department and United States Postal Service will meet with Cuban diplomats on Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington to discuss the issue, the officials said.

The U.S. officials said the talks are technical in nature and emphasized that they did not indicate a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba has been suspended since 1963. Despite the ban, letters and other mail still flow between the United States and the island nation 90 miles away through other countries.

Talks to resume postal service between the two countries were last held in mid-September 2009 and were seen at the time as a sign of further thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations under the Obama administration, which had earlier relaxed restrictions on remittances and travel to the island for Cuban American exiles.

President Barack Obama also restarted talks on immigration in 2009 that were suspended by the Bush administration in 2004. But the immigration talks were broken off.

The meeting this week comes in the midst of a dispute between the two countries over the case of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for installing Internet networks for Cuban Jews in a U.S. program Cuba considers subversive.

The last known talks between the United States and Cuba were in January 2011 when officials met in Havana to discuss the implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, where the issue over Gross was raised.

Gross' arrest in late 2009 and sentencing in March 2011 stalled a brief period of progress in U.S.-Cuba relations after the Obama administration took office early in 2009.

Relations between the two countries have been frozen since soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Cuba has hinted at a possible swap of Gross for five Cuban agents being held in the United States on espionage convictions - the so-called "Cuban Five" - but the United States has rejected the idea.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, David Adams and Susan Heavey; Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

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