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*-- Obama to send two diplomats instead of official delegation to Castro memorial --*

WASHINGTON - White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday said President Barack Obama will not send an official presidential delegation to Cuba for Fidel Castro's memorial service, instead opting to send two top diplomats to represent the United States.

Earnest said the White House will send Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Obama's nominee to become the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, and Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes to the island nation. Castro died late Friday.

"So much of the diplomatic relationship with Cuba is quite complicated," Earnest said during a press briefing on Tuesday, adding the United States still has "significant concerns about the way the Cuban government" is "protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people."

On Monday, Earnest said he does not expect Castro's death to impact the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

"At least from the U.S. standpoint, I wouldn't expect any impact on the kind of progress that we're committed to making on our end to begin to normalize relations with Cuba," Earnest said. "There certainly is no whitewashing the kinds of activities that [Castro] ordered and that his government presided over that go against the very values that this country -- that our country -- has long defended."

Obama formally announced his administration was working to normalize relations with Cuba in December 2014.

"I think the question for the president is, in terms of making policy, are we going to be rooted in that past, or are we going to look to the future? It doesn't mean that we should ignore the past, but it does mean that we can't let the past interfere with our ability to make progress," Earnest added.


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