By Anita Snow
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2001; 9:01 PM
HAVANA Cuba's foreign minister urged President-elect Bush to negotiate with 74-year-old Fidel Castro soon, saying Tuesday that resuming ties between the Cold War-era foes could prove more difficult after the communist leader dies.
"I would try to straighten out the matter," of suspended diplomatic relations, Felipe Perez Roque told The Associated Press in an interview at the foreign ministry.
Neither the Perez Roque nor Castro's younger brother and designated successor, Defense Minister Gen. Raul Castro, have elaborated on why negotiations might be harder after Fidel Castro's death.
But Raul Castro, the defense minister and next in the constitutional line of succession, is considered more of a hard-liner than his brother. Raul Castro offered Bush the same advice in a television interview over the weekend.
Despite political differences, Perez Roque said Cuba wants to fully restore diplomatic relations with the United States that were severed 40 years ago this month.
He said his country would also welcome an end to the U.S. trade embargo, which has been imposed on the Caribbean island for almost as long.
Perez Roque scoffed at suggestions from President Clinton and others that Havana wants the trade sanctions to remain in place so the United States can be the scapegoat for Cuba's economic woes.
"Then take this pretext away from us!" the foreign minister said.
Some members of Congress have promised to launch a new campaign to lower the trade embargo.
Nevertheless, "it is necessary to continue fighting against this absurd situation," he said.
Congress members made numerous unsuccessful attempts to ease the embargo during last year's election season. Some Capitol Hill observers have suggested they could have better luck this year.
Congress did agree last year to allow U.S. food to be sold to Cuba for the first time in four decades. But the law included such severe restrictions on financing, Cuban officials say the sales are all but impossible.
In protest, Havana has said it will not buy any U.S. food under the current legislation.
While waiting to see what will unfold in Washington, "we will remain calm," said the foreign minister. "We are not anxious, nor are we afraid.
"The ball now is in the hands of U.S. officials," he said.