What others say: Talk to Cuba

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The following editorial appeared recently in the Orlando Sentinel:

Considering last year's deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and all the oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, it would be counterproductive for the United States to let a diplomatic stand-off get in the way of ensuring drilling in the Florida Straits meets the highest of standards.

Unfortunately, that appears to be happening. It's a relic of the Cold War — the ongoing iciness with Cuba's Castro-led government.

Rather than engage Havana one-on-one about its Florida Straits drilling plan, Washington has publicly said it prefers to go through multinational forums. Since Wednesday, for example, U.S. officials have had access to Cuban and Bahamian counterparts at an International Maritime Organization gathering.

At least they're talking to each other. But it makes no sense to engage Cuban officials on international platforms and not in direct talks, too.

Washington has conducted direct negotiations with Havana on other issues, such as immigration and military matters. Surely drilling in waters close to Florida's environmentally sensitive and economically vital coasts rises to the same priority level.

What if there is an accident similar to the 2010 episode in the Gulf? Will Washington then wait until the next IMO workshop to address the crisis with Havana?

Cuba's not the only concern for Florida. The Bahamas also is mulling its own oil exploration next year.

Bahamian officials have already worked with Cuban counterparts to address boundary issues. They were smart to do so.

We have long advocated democratic and free-market reforms in Cuba. No amount of oil-drilling revenue will boost the island's fortunes without fundamental reforms.

We just don't believe shunning direct talks on drilling will boost that transition.

Meanwhile, the Scarabeo 9 — a floating, Chinese-rig — is sailing across the Pacific Ocean from Singapore to Cuba's north coast. As early as next month, it could be drilling just 70 miles from Florida waters.

Time is running out. The Obama administration would be smart to rethink its approach to Cuba oil-drilling discussions.

The IMO workshop that concludes today is a fine forum, we agree. But Washington should not box itself in by limiting talks on this critical issue to a U.N. agency.

Florida has too much at stake.

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