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U.S. Abstains From U.N. Vote Calling To End Cuban Embargo

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For a quarter of a century, the U.N. General Assembly has called for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. And every year, the U.S. votes against it. But now the Obama administration is taking a different approach. It's abstaining. NPR's Michele Kelemen explains why.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power was among those applauding enthusiastically when the resolution calling for an end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba sailed through the General Assembly in a 191 to 0 vote.

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KELEMEN: It was a surprising scene, but Ambassador Power says the U.S. has come to realize the diplomatic damage of this annual mostly symbolic vote.

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SAMANTHA POWER: The resolution voted on today is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working.

KELEMEN: The U.S., she says, was isolating itself. Israel and the U.S. abstained today. They were the only two to vote no last year. Power says the U.S. doesn't agree with parts of the resolution that suggest the U.S. embargo violates international law. She also says the U.S. remains, quote, "profoundly concerned" about human rights violations in Cuba.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POWER: Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not.

KELEMEN: Cuba's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, was next up to the podium. Speaking through an interpreter, he thanked the Obama administration for easing trade restrictions on his country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) Most of the executive regulations as well as the laws that establish the blockade, however, are still enforced.

KELEMEN: He praised the Cuban people for their, quote, "heroic resistance" to an illegal and immoral blockade. Only the U.S. Congress can end the embargo, and some lawmakers were furious with the U.S. abstention today.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio says the Obama administration is ignoring U.S. law by not standing up for the embargo at the U.N. State Department Spokesman John Kirby says the embargo is still law, but U.S. policy is to work with Congress to lift it. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.