By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and the United States on Monday signed an agreement to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities on the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
President Barack Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who helped negotiate the normalization of relations between the two countries begun two years ago, was present for the signing, according to the White House.
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A brief statement said Rhodes was in Cuba for “official meetings, cultural engagements, and to witness the signing of a U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).”
Trump, who takes office on Friday, has threatened to scrap a still-fragile detente between the two countries unless Cuba makes further political and economic concessions.
Trump is expected to review Cuba policy upon taking office and has named Jason Greenblatt, a Trump Organization executive and chief legal counsel, as negotiator for sensitive international issues, including Cuba.
“The arrangement will establish a framework for strengthening our partnership on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House statement said.
The signing was not open to the press, however Reuters has seen a copy of the agreement, signed by U.S. Charge d'Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis.
The two countries on Thursday announced a deal to cooperate on immigration issues and put an end to a 20-year-old policy that gave entry to Cubans without visas if they set foot on U.S. soil.
Obama has used his executive powers to improve relations and punch holes in the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress. The deals and orders can be reversed by Trump.
Eighteen cooperation accords have been inked to date, ranging from postal services and science to protecting the environment and healthcare cooperation.
There has been initial discussion over more difficult issues such as U.S. nationalization compensation claims, Cuba's demand for embargo reparations, extraditing fugitives and the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba.
Travel to the communist-run Caribbean island from the United States has increased, with the start of direct flights and cruises and cellphone roaming agreements signed, but there have been no manufacturing or major trade deals inked.
(In eighth paragraph, changes day of immigration accord to Thursday)
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)