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Will Obama ease US policy toward Cuba?

A new approach could represent a relatively easy first step down a generally more controversial path of engaging with America's adversaries.

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A desire by President-elect Obama to enter the White House signaling change in US foreign policy may well lead to quick – though perhaps modest – action on Cuba.

When he assumes office, Mr. Obama will be largely focused on addressing the worst economic dive in generations. But in that context there are several reasons a shift toward Cuba – a thorn in the side of the last nine presidents – could begin early next year:

•Obama could take a number of steps, such as easing contacts between Cuban-Americans and their families on the island, by executive action – thus signaling a shift from Bush policies without dedicating a lot of effort to it.

•The November elections and recent polls reveal a Cuban-American community more disposed to opening up channels to the communist island, even though the Castro brothers continue to govern it – meaning the political capital spent on a shift would be negligible.

•Moving on Cuba would give Obama something of a "twofer," signaling to the rest of Latin America the advent of a different policy toward the hemisphere.

•Making Cuba a test case of a new willingness to engage with US adversaries could be a relatively easy first step down a generally more controversial path.

Cuba presents Obama with "low-hanging fruit," easily picked, to suggest "a new foreign-policy direction," says Anya Landau French, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank in Washington. Steps as basic as increasing antinarcotics cooperation, she says, offer "a way to break from Bush policy without a great effort."

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