HAVANA-Cuba is bracing for the possibility of the United States breaking off diplomatic ties but will seek to maintain them nonetheless, Havana’s top diplomat in charge of relations with Washington said.

“We must be aware that this can get worse,” said the official, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, summing up months of mounting tension between the two countries.

The reason for the downturn in relations-five years after a historic thaw between Havana and Washington-is simple, he said in an interview with media.

“Those in charge of US policy toward the Western Hemisphere have attitudes and positions that are extremely aggressive toward our country,” he said.

“We are seeing that what they want to do is to break all the existing links, to close the embassies. … We hope that this won’t be the case but we cannot trust that this will not happen,” said Fernandez de Cossio, director general of the US desk at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry.

“We are prepared, ready for such an eventuality but we do not wish it.”

The embassies were reopened in 2015, months after then US president Barack Obama and then Cuban leader Raul Castro agreed to revive diplomatic ties severed since 1961.

“It was an emotional moment for the Cuban people,” said Fernandez de Cossio, recalling the hope that prevailed in his country at the time.

But five years on, he has mixed feelings about the progress made.

The first two years were unremittingly positive: Travel and trade restrictions were eased, a direct telephone link was restored, and Obama visited Havana.

“In the last three years, there has been a gradual erosion (of the relationship) until the current moment when the US government is clearly declaring its aggressive intent toward Cuba.”

As long as Washington maintains an economic embargo, which Obama failed to lift during his presidency, “it’s very difficult to think seriously about sustainable progress in the bilateral relationship,” Fernandez de Cossio said.

Right now “it’s at a very low point”, he said, citing what he called the “drastic” US measure of depriving 11 million Cubans of fuel by targeting shipments from ally Venezuela with sanctions.

He said he isn’t holding out much hope that the upcoming US elections will change anything.

“Nobody knows what will happen in 2020 in the US,” he said. But “Cuba has historically shown its wish for, and remains willing to build, a respectful, civilized relationship with the US”.

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