Richardson to leave Cuba without seeing jailed American
September 13th, 2011
01:19 PM ET

Richardson to leave Cuba without seeing jailed American

By Sr. State Dept. Producer Elise Labott

Saying he is "disappointed and perplexed," former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday he is leaving Cuba without any progress in seeking the release of jailed American Alan Gross.

Richardson, speaking to media in Havana, said he would be leaving Cuba Wednesday morning.

"I have exhausted all possibilities after one week to visit Alan Gross," Richardson said. "I tried all channels."

Richardson, who arrived in Havana September 7, was given the cold shoulder by the Cuban government. He was not able to see Gross, nor did he meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro. "My conclusions are that it is possible the Cuban government has made a decision not to improve relations with the United States," he said Tuesday.

Even before Richardson announced he was leaving Cuba, officials in Washington said the mission was not going well. One senior State Department official who has been in touch with Richardson throughout his visit told CNN earlier that "it doesn't look good" for securing Gross' release.

The State Department said that while Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, the United States supported his efforts to obtain Gross' release.

Richardson said that he was never promised Gross would be released if he traveled to Havana, but that he was invited by the Cuban government to talk about U.S.-Cuban relations, including the Gross case.

"There were never any guarantees, but when they made the offer there was great hope. He was told he would be able to see Gross," one senior official said.

The atmosphere quickly soured once Richardson arrived in Havana and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told him that not only could he not take Gross back to the United States, but he couldn't even meet with him.

"There were no demands," Richardson said. "It was just an outright rejection of even a dialogue on what could be done to free Alan Gross." Officials said a reference by Richardson to Gross being a "hostage" of the Cuban government further escalated tensions.

Richardson had told the State Department he would not leave without seeing either Gross or Raul Castro.

"My main message is that the key to improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba - which has been one of my objectives - is the release of American Alan Gross," Richardson said initially.

Senior State Department officials suggested the problem could have been the result of a debate within the Cuban regime about how to relate to the United States.

"Gross' case is all about the U.S. and some fear if he is released, this could open up a space for more dialogue," one senior official said.

An exclusive report last week by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" said Richardson was invited by the Cuban government for the specific mission of trying to negotiate the release of Gross.

"We are pleased that the Cuban government invited Gov. Richardson to Havana," said a statement issued September 7 on behalf of the Gross family. "We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan's release. We are grateful to Governor Richardson for his continued efforts."

Last month, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year sentence imposed on Gross for committing crimes against the security of the state.

Gross, 62, was jailed in December 2009, when he was working as a subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International Development project aimed at spreading democracy. In a speech, President Raul Castro accused him of importing satellite equipment to connect dissidents to the Internet.

Gross says he was trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet and was not a threat to the government.

The case sank U.S.-Cuba relations to a new low after initial signs of thawing when President Barack Obama took office. The State Department has said no progress will be made until Gross is released.

Former President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba earlier this year and tried to secure the aid worker's release on humanitarian grounds, arguing that Gross' mother and daughter are battling cancer. But he went home empty-handed.

The Gross family statement expressed hope that Richardson and Cuban authorities would be "able to find common ground that will allow us to be reunited as a family before the Jewish High Holy Days," which begin on September 28 this year with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

CNN's Shasta Darlington in Havana contributed to this report

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