President's Retirement Cigars Could Be Cuban

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Freed from the fear of losing votes, President Clinton finally feels he can begin dismantling Washington’s "archaic" Cuba policy. "There is a conscious decision in this administration to do what needs to be done," a senior White House official was quoted as saying in Wednesday’s New York Times. "This is a policy that has been held hostage to interest groups for way too long." "What needs to be done" is the easing of the 37-year U.S. embargo of Cuba, which has patently failed in its prime objective of overthrowing Fidel Castro and has long since been abandoned by all of Washington’s allies. But those "special interest groups" –- anti-Castro Cuban exiles with significant electoral power in the swing states of Florida and New Jersey –- will have Al Gore’s people jumping on the brake wherever possible. "Conventional wisdom is that Gore’s interests will stand in the way of doing much of anything on foreign policy," says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty. "On the other hand, President Clinton has his legacy to think about. It’s too early to tell how any conflict between the two on Cuba will be resolved."

The Times reports that the administration plans a series of small measures in the coming weeks designed to ease the burden of the U.S. embargo on ordinary Cubans and foster greater interaction with Americans, such as relaxing restrictions on travel, money transfers and the sale and donation of medicines. The White House knows that old age, rather than the embargo, is what’s going to get the 72-year-old Castro out of office, and the U.S. has a long-term interest in fostering ties with the generation that will succeed him. But with Gore having to face the Florida governor’s brother in a tight presidential race, it could be a while before you're lighting up a legal Cohiba.