U.S. sends nondelegation delegation to Castro services

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Earnest discussed the funeral of Fidel Castro, flag-burning, and other topics. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing on Nov. 29. Earnest discussed the funeral of Fidel Castro, flag burning and other topics. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Obama is sending two senior officials to represent the United States at a service on Tuesday for the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. But don’t call it an official delegation, the White House insisted.

“I can tell you that the president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “I can tell you, however, that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes will attend the service, as will the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Jeff DeLaurentis.”

Rhodes was one of the key architects of the secret diplomacy with Cuba that led to the stunning December 2014 announcement that the two Cold War adversaries would renew diplomatic relations and pursue deeper economic ties. Obama nominated DeLaurentis, the top U.S. official at the embassy in Havana, to be ambassador, but Republicans have blocked the nomination.

Although Rhodes and DeLaurentis “will be representing the United States at the memorial service this evening,” Earnest said, Obama has withheld the official “delegation” designation in a symbolic show of disapproval toward the government in Havana.

”There are many aspects of the U.S.-Cuba relationship that were characterized by a lot of conflict and turmoil, not just during the Castro regime, but we continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people,” the spokesman said.

“This is an appropriate way to show respect, to participate in the events that are planned for this evening, while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries,” Earnest said.