Kerry: U.S. Engaged in Talks to Free Alan Gross

MIAMI (El Nuevo Herald/MCT) -

The Obama administration is “currently engaged” in behind-the-scenes discussions to win the release of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, jailed in Cuba for the past four years, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry, who engaged in another secret effort to free Gross in 2010, made the largely unnoticed remarks Tuesday at a news conference in NATO headquarters in Belgium, after he was asked about U.S. citizens detained in Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

“In the case of Mr. Gross, we’ve had any number of initiatives and outreaches over the last several years and engagement with a number of different individuals who have traveled to Cuba, met with people individually there and elsewhere,” Kerry said.

“And we are currently engaged in some discussions regarding that, which I’m not at liberty to go into in any kind of detail,” he added, declining further comment on a case that has become the key roadblock to improved U.S.-Cuba relations.

“With respect to the number of American citizens who are being held in different places … we have been engaged behind the scenes — which is often the way these issues are best managed — in every single case in order to try to secure the safety of those people, and in order ultimately to be able to secure their release,” he said.

“The bottom line is that we have raised these issues not just in Korea — North Korea —not just in Cuba, but also with respect to a number of Americans who are held in Iran,” he concluded. “And I have personally raised those names and those individuals with my counterpart as well as in other ways. And we are hopeful that in each case, at some point we will be able to win their freedom and have them rejoined with their families.”

The State Department said late Wednesday that “securing Alan Gross’ immediate release remains a top priority of the United States. We use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.”

Kerry did not identify the other party or parties in the “discussions” to free Gross, 64, a Jewish Maryland development specialist man serving a 15-yerar prison sentence in Havana for delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban Jews.

He was convicted of endangering the island’s national security because the equipment was paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a pro-democracy program. The Cuban government regards the USAID programs as part of an effort to undermine and even topple its communist system.