US abstains from UN resolution on Cuba embargo for first time

US abstains from UN resolution on Cuba embargo for first time
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For the first time Wednesday, the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning the country’s trade embargo against Cuba.

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The move is a break with 25 years of U.S. opposition to the resolution but is in line with President Obama’s recent efforts to normalize diplomatic ties with the former Cold War foe, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerSupport swells for renaming Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to honor John Lewis after his death 'Obamagate' backfires: Documents show Biden, Obama acted properly 'Unmaskings' may be common — and that's the problem MORE said.  

"Today the United States will abstain,” Power said during a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. “After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement.”

Power pointed to certain language in the resolution that the U.S. opposes, in explaining the decision to abstain.

She also acknowledged that the measure is largely in line with Obama’s desire to lift the embargo, which he believes has failed to weaken the Castro government while hurting U.S. relations in the region.

And deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on Twitter there’s “no reason to vote to defend a failed policy we oppose.”

The U.N. resolution is largely symbolic and does not carry the force of law. But it has served as an annual opportunity for Cuba and its Latin American allies to blast U.S. policy on the world stage. 

The decision to abstain, instead of voting no, will likely revive a long-running conflict between the White House and Republicans in Congress, who back the 55-year-old embargo.

Republicans, and some Democrats, in Congress argue that Obama’s decision to pursue closer ties with Cuba only rewards President Raúl Castro, whose government still maintains strict controls over the economy and carries out human-rights abuses against its citizens. 

“This is long-standing, bipartisan, human rights-based US law that the Administration is choosing not to defend,” Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American member of the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted Wednesday. “That is shameful.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP MORE (R-Fla.) said in a statement "is shameful for the Obama administration to refuse to abide by existing U.S. law and to dismiss the will of the American people, as expressed through their elected representatives of Congress."

Power used her remarks Wednesday to press the Cuban government to improve conditions for its citizens. 

"Abstaining on this resolution does not mean the U.S. agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government," she said. "We believe that the Cuban people — like all people — are entitled to basic human rights."