KINGSTON, Ontario (AP) – A top Cuban official on Thursday said Cuba is willing to discuss everything with the Obama administration, but it won’t give up its form of government in talks to improve relations.

The director of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s North American Department said Cuba won’t negotiate sovereignty or its political and social system. She said dialogue should occur without preconditions.

“Cuba cannot be asked to give up its form of government as a condition to establish normal relations with the United States. That position is a nonstarter. It will lead us no where,” Josefina Vidal said. “In doing so, the United States would make the same mistake that previous governments have done.”

Vidal was speaking at the start of a Cuban academic conference in Canada to examine the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Cuba revolution. Academics from Cuba, the United States and Canada are taking part. Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon is scheduled to give a speech Saturday.

President Barack Obama has eased restriction on travel, money transfers and telecommunications between the U.S. and Cuba. But top U.S. officials say they would like to see some Cuban political and social reforms before exploring normalizing diplomatic relations that Washington broke off in January 1961.

President Raul Castro last month said Cuba was willing to discuss “everything” with the U.S., leading to hopes that a door way opening to a new relationship.

But former president Fidel Castro insists that Cuba should make no concessions in return for better U.S. ties.

“The Cuban government has reiterated on several occasions its willingness to have a dialogue to discuss with the United States any issue, any time, any where,” Vidal said.

“Cuba is ready is to discuss everything but not to negotiate its sovereignty or its political or social system.”

The U.S. has long sought what it considers real change in the areas of human rights, free speech, free markets and democracy.

The Obama administration has said it has no plans to lift the embargo which bans nearly all trade with Cuba. The island’s government blames those sanctions for frequent shortages of food, medicine, farming and transportation machinery and other basics.

“The day the blockade is over and we have normal communication between our two countries, we will be free in Cuba to devote all our efforts and resources just to the development of our nation and not to think about ways to avoid the pressures and the obstacles the U.S. blockade signifies in Cuba,” Vidal said.

Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University and former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America, said that day will come, but not soon.

“I hope before too long we can have a conference like this in Washington,” Pastor said in a speech. “But don’t book your tickets quite yet.”


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