State Dept Says It Isn't Changing Law on Cuba, Just Policy With U.N. Vote Abstention

October 26, 2016

After the United States on Wednesday abstained from a United Nations vote to end the economic embargo on Cuba for the first time in decades, the State Department said the Obama administration is not changing U.S. law on the matter, just policy.

The U.N. General Assembly voted to end America's embargo on Cuba with 191 votes out of 193 in favor of the resolution. The U.S. had voted against the resolution, which has no binding impact on American law, for the past 24 years.

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked State Department spokesman John Kirby if the Obama administration's shift on the issue meant it was no longer defending U.S. law. Only Congress can lift the embargo, although the president has taken steps to ease restrictions on trade and travel.

"As you probably expected, members of Congress who do not agree with the administration's approach to Cuba are crying foul about this, and I'm wondering, does the administration no longer believe that it is obligated as the executive to uphold or defend what is the law of the land?" Lee asked.

Kirby said the administration was fully complying with the law, though officials are trying to change the policy. He said the State Department knows what the law is and acknowledged its obligation to obey it.

"Obviously we're fully cognizant of the fact that the embargo is law and the administration doesn't hold itself above law,""Kirby said. "We obey the law and that is the law."

Kirby defended the administration's right to still seek relations with Cuba and the belief that the embargo should be lifted, despite Congress' objections.

"But you won't defend it in front of, before an international institution that is condemning it?" Lee asked.

Kirby continued to state that the administration acted within the law, despite holding a different policy, adding that it is President Obama's prerogative as commander in chief to set foreign policy.

"Until it is no longer the law of the land, you're saying that the executive branch doesn't believe that it has an obligation to defend it?" Lee asked.

"We have an obligation to obey it and to follow it, and that's what we're doing," Kirby said.

Kirby did not say that the executive branch and Obama administration had an obligation to defend the law.