Senate Foreign Relations chairman kept in the dark on Cuba negotiations

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (D-N.J.), the outgoing head of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, on Sunday blasted the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba and said it would be “difficult” to confirm an ambassador.

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Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been critical of the deal, which relaxes a 55-year-old policy of U.S. travel and commerce restrictions with the island nation, since it was announced last month.

He told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday morning that while the United States has “an operating interests section” that could be “easily” converted into an embassy, “I would think it would be very difficult to get an ambassador confirmed.”

Menendez says he knew nothing about the talks, which reportedly took place for a year and a half, adding that the "secret diplomacy" was "problematic."

“So we subverted, in my view, the standards that are important for us to uphold globally in a way that we could have -- if you're going to make a deal with the regime, then get something for it,” Menendez told Bash. “But at the end of the day, they got absolutely nothing for giving up everything that the Castro regime wants to see and has lobbied for.”

President Obama said in the Dec. 17 announcement about the change in U.S.-Cuban relations that the decision came because isolation “hasn’t worked.” He said that Cubans should not face harassment or arrest for expressing their views, and that he would monitor the country for human rights violations.

A planned demonstration in Havana on New Year’s Eve brought a heavy police presence and resulted in the early morning arrests of at least four dissidents and independent journalists before the event even began.

The “performance,” which came with the slogan #YoTambienExijo – which in English means #IAlsoDemand – would give Cubans a chance to speak for one minute about what they envisioned for the country going forward.

“So, here you are, you know, a week or two after the president's announcements, in which human rights activists and political dissidents are arrested for simply speaking about what their vision of Cuba should be tomorrow,” Menendez said.