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Russian oil rigs just 45 miles from Florida?

Cuba will allow Russia to look for oil and gas in its territorial waters. Environmentalists cringe, but the industry says its time for the US to look for more oil in the Gulf of Mexico, too.

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Remember the Cuba Missile Crisis and the threat of Russian nukes 90 miles from Key West?

Now, there is the possibility of Russian oil rigs even closer, drilling in Cuban waters off the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the Cuban government announced it had signed contracts with Russia, allowing Russia to hunt for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps as close as 45 miles from US shores.

Environmental groups say it's a bad idea. But pro-oil drilling organizations think the Cuban proposal should send a message that if other nations are willing to open up their offshore waters, so should the US. And, it's prompted at least one Florida mayor to volunteer to go to Havana to talk about environmental concerns.

"It does present a dilemma for the US," says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington. "But, as long as it's in Cuba's economic zone, we may not like it but there is little we can do about it."

It may not just be Russian oil rigs heading for the tropics. Mr. Smith, a long time Cuba expert, says the Cubans are also talking to the Chinese and Brazilians.

This prospect has prompted Key West mayor Morgan McPherson to volunteer to go to Havana in the first US-Cuban exchange on the environment.

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