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‘And now a live report from our correspondent in Havana ...’

January 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Cable News Network seems poised to win approval for establishing a news bureau in Cuba almost three decades after the last American outlet was expelled.

CNN has received the green light from the Cuban government and is now awaiting approval from the Clinton administration for its 2-month-old license application to operate in Cuba.

The administration has been biding its time, waiting for a consensus to emerge before making a decision. Cuba is a politically sensitive subject and the administration could run the risk of alienating key constituencies if the issue is not handled carefully.

There is no strong opposition to the idea, and the issue is ``moving along,″ said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity and closely follows Cuban policy.

Tom Johnson, CNN chairman and chief executive officer, said, ``We are guardedly optimistic.″ CNN has told the administration it wants a decision by the end of the month.

There has been some grumbling about allowing President Fidel Castro to dictate the terms of the re-entry into Cuba of American news organizations. But there also is hostility to the idea of U.S. government-issued licenses for activities guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Cuban-American National Foundation, an influential Miami-based group long opposed to communist rule in Cuba, says it has no objection to CNN playing a groundbreaking role in Cuba. It expressed hope that licenses would be granted to other news outlets as well.

Foundation officials made clear last week during a meeting with Johnson their unhappiness with CNN coverage of Cuba to date, citing in particular a 1995 CNN interview with Castro.

Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press, said he supports CNN’s request to open a bureau in Cuba.

``We continue to press the Cubans to let the AP, the last American-based news organization to leave Cuba, come back in,″ he said. ``We hope permission will come soon.″

The AP bureau in Havana was shut down in 1969 but Cuba has allowed AP reporters and correspondents from other American news outlets to make periodic reporting trips _ usually lasting a week or so _ to the island.

Cuban officials say more than 90 per cent of all visa applications from American reporters are approved.

The Cuban foreign ministry said Thursday that the authorization for CNN did not imply that other news organizations were specifically excluded, the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina said.

The agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Migel Alfonso as saying at a weekly news conference that the permission granted to CNN was based on more than 10 years of relations of mutual respect between Cuba and the network.

Shortly after CNN received Cuban approval last November, Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence sent letters to senior administration officials asking that the Herald be included in ``the first wave of any arrangement that involves news bureaus in Cuba.″

He said if other U.S. outlets were to open bureaus in Cuba while the Herald were denied permission, this would run counter to his sense of ``democracy and fairness.″

Robert Kaiser, managing editor of The Washington Post, said Thursday he believes it is inappropriate for the Herald to have the government intercede on behalf of its interests.

After a meeting with CNN’s Johnson last Friday, Lawrence issued a statement saying the Herald’s position had remained unchanged. But in a telephone interview Wednesday night, Johnson said he had the impression that the Herald was no longer opposed to CNN playing a trailblazer role in Cuba.

In virtually all other countries, U.S. news organizations do not need U.S. government approval to open an office. But the rules for Cuba are different because of the U.S. trade embargo against the island.

CNN has been stepping up pressure on the administration to approve its license request. Johnson has met with outgoing Secretary of State Warren Christopher and with his designated successor, Madeleine Albright.

Johnson also has pressed his case with influential members of Congress, including meeting with an aide to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

A Helms spokesman said Thursday the senator believes that all American media should have access to Cuba. He said Helms has yet to take a public stand on whether CNN should be given access to the island before its competitors.

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