World Bulletin / News Desk
President-elect Donald Trump on Monday threatened to end the US thaw with Cuba unless Havana makes key concessions, a move that would upend the historic rapprochement engineered under his predecessor Barack Obama.
"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," Trump said on Twitter.
The hard line came just a day after his senior advisors promised to strike a "better deal" with the communist-ruled island after former leader Fidel Castro's death Friday, without stating how this might affect the improving ties between the Cold War foes.
To the White House's likely dismay, Castro's death has pressed Trump to respond to an issue that almost certainly would have remained further down on his agenda.
Trump's tweet appeared to ratchet up the pressure on an arrangement that his fellow Republicans have long criticized as ceding too much to Havana without significant gains in return.
Prominent Republicans have blasted Castro as a murderous tyrant since his death. Trump himself called Castro a "brutal dictator."
But no one close to Trump had directly threatened to end the political opening announced in 2014 by Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro -- until Trump's Monday morning tweet.
The president-elect's transition team elaborated, with communications director Jason Miller telling reporters on a call that Trump is "aware of the nuances and complexities" of the challenges faced by Cuba's people, and that he will address the issue "once he becomes president."
"To be clear, the president-elect wants to see freedom in Cuba for the Cubans, and a good deal for Americans where we aren't played for fools," Miller added.
"Our priorities are the release of political prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression."
Trump's position on Cuba had shifted during his turbulent campaign.
At first he spoke of his support for the reopening of diplomatic ties after more than half a century of distrust.
But before the election, he was pledging to reverse Obama's "one-sided" deal that he said only benefited the Castro government.
"All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands." Trump said in September.
Trump's team has said the outgoing Democratic administration made too many concessions to Havana -- notably by easing the 1962 US economic embargo -- without receiving enough in return in areas like human rights, democracy and the move toward a free-market economy.
"We've got to have a better deal," Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on Fox News Sunday.
Trump at first only briefly addressed the Cuban revolutionary's demise, in an inelegant tweet early Saturday -- "Fidel Castro is dead!" -- before issuing a longer statement.
"Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty," Trump said.
In October, just weeks before the presidential election, Obama announced a directive formalizing a normalization policy with Cuba and unveiling a new round of loosened trade and travel rules, saying it was aimed at making the policy "irreversible."
But the changes could be reversed when a new administration takes office, senior officials conceded at the time.
The US Treasury and Commerce Departments announced regulatory changes allowing joint medical research and funding, civil aviation and safety services, payments for travel by foreign nationals to and from Cuba, and some online sales to Cubans.
Fidel Castro's death raises questions about the future of Cuba's one-party system and who will replace the elderly generation of revolutionaries.
Raul Castro is 85 and has said he will step aside after the next Communist Party congress, in 2018.