frankix/iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- Both sides expressed optimism on Friday that Cuba and the United States will soon resume normal diplomatic relations, with the goal of opening embassies in both countries as early as April.
Roberta Jacobson, leading the U.S. delegation, said the embassies could be reopened before the April Summit of the Americas, April 10-11 in Panama. Both Presidents Obama and Raul Castro will be in attendance and it could be their first meeting since the announcement to restore diplomatic ties in December.
“I'm very encouraged that we will have an embassy functioning in Havana that is able to do its work,” Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said.
Adding, in response to a question: "I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas."
For the Cubans, two big issues are still on the table: remaining on the U.S. terrorist watch list and issues surrounding their inability to work with U.S. banks at their Interest Section, which results in all transactions being in cash.
Josefina Vidal on the Cuban side even emphasized that one issue is not a precondition for the other.
Vidal says it would be difficult for Cuba to consider relations completely normalized while it remains designated as a terrorist state. But she considered the opening of embassies and establishing a relationship separate from the steps being taken to establish full normalization.
"What we are saying is, It's not a precondition. Not a condition. But is a very important issue for Cuba … we hope is addressed and solved," added Vidal, who's leading the negotiations for Cuba.
The United States has taken the first step toward removing Cuba from that list, undertaking a review, which when completed must be submitted to Congress prior to Cuba’s being taken off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
The delegations announced a series of bilateral meetings, a half dozen, held over the next few weeks to discuss other concerns, including human rights, marine protected areas, protection of migration front and regulation issues.
And the two sides have agreed to maintain “permanent communication” as they move forward.
“In our case not compromising on our values but to try and resolve this so we can have the kind of relationship,” Jacobson said. “We made sufficient progress on enough [issues]. Some of them are close to resolution, others we have to take back to our respective leadership.”
ABC News(BEIJING) -- China is getting ready to roll out the royal treatment for the United Kingdom’s Prince William this Sunday, but it looks like not everyone in Beijing knows who the guest of honor is.
ABC News’ Bob Woodruff took to the streets of Beijing to see how many people could identify the future king of England and his future queen, Duchess Kate.
Turns out about half them could identify the famous royal. Out of 16 people interviewed, just seven recognized the famous Will and Kate.
There could be one good reason for the lapse in recognition: British royals haven’t visited the country in nearly 30 years, since Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth visited.
Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Boris Nemtsov, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal and visible opponents was shot and killed near Moscow’s Red Square Friday, a member of his political party told ABC News.
Nemtsov, a prominent opposition leader, was shot multiple times in the back as he walked by a bridge near the Kremlin late Friday night, according to Russia’s Investigative Committee.
Russian news reports said that Nemtsov was walking with a female companion when a white car pulled up and fired on him before fleeing the scene.
Unidentified killers fired "at least seven or eight shots" at Nemtsov when the politician was walking on Bolshoy Kammeny Bridge in central Moscow, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
"Witnesses to the killing are being questioned, and the crime scene is being carefully examined," Markin said.
Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister under Putin during the 1990s, but fell out with the Russian president and formed Russia's People’s Freedom Party.
The reason for the attack remains a mystery. A Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Putin was aware of the news and called it a provocation. "Putin noted that this cruel murder has every sign of being a contract one which has solely provocative nature," Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
"The president has ordered the leadership of the Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service to form an investigative group and keep the investigation of this crime under personal control," Peskov said.
"The Russian president expresses deep condolences to relatives and friends of Boris Nemtsov, who died tragically," Peskov added.
The former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted: “I cannot believe that they have killed my friend, Boris Nemtsov."
Nemtsov’s death comes just days before he was expected to take part in a large anti-Putin protest planned on Sunday.
Nemtsov was one of the organizers of large street protests against President Putin in recent years, always marching at the front of the crowd and addressing them from the stage.
He was the author of several reports on corruption in Russia, including attempts to estimate President Putin’s wealth and the amount of money stolen during preparations for last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“I was born in Russia and will die in this country,” he told ABC News’ Brian Ross in December 2013 when asked if he was afraid of being targeted for his opposition to President Putin.
“Everybody who against him must be very careful,” he said.
Asked what motivated him, Nemtsov replied: “I think that we must replace him because he did everything against an interest of my country; corruption, dependence on oil and gas, absence of technology, monopolization. He doesn't want to invest money to middle class. He forgets about health care and the population.”
“Russian authorities should thoroughly and impartially investigate Nemtsov’s killing,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to consider all possible motivations for his killing, including Nemtsov’s political activity.”
In an interview published on Friday, Nemtsov told the Financial Times he believed U.S. sanctions on Russia were beginning to have an effect on Putin’s popularity. Stagnant wages and soaring inflation topped the agenda when he met with residents of Yaroslavl, a town northeast of Moscow, last week.
“They believed that the embargo on imported foods is America’s fault, and they were surprised when I told them no, that was not Obama, it was Putin," Nemtsov told the Financial Times. "This is what we need to make people aware of the crisis. Putin’s rating will not stay at above 80 per cent forever. It will start coming down, very gradually. And once it does, the fear will diminish, too, and at some point some big business will start supporting and financing us.”
Fair Use(NEW YORK) -- A day after he was identified as ISIS’s infamous “Jihadi John,” a photograph of the man, Mohammed Emwazi, has emerged, published on the front pages of British newspapers late Friday.
The image, from the files from Emwazi’s time at the University of Westminster, shows the young man in a white t-shirt and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball hat. Years later, the same eyes shown in that picture would peek through a black mask as Emwazi allegedly wields a knife in multiple ISIS hostage execution videos.
“Nothing like this. We never realized he would go to be jihadi,” Sharaftullah Towsi, a friend of Emwazi’s, told the BBC Friday, echoing sentiments from others who knew him as a “nice” young man.
But one of Emwazi’s elementary school teachers told the BBC late Friday that he was put into anger management therapy because he was getting into fights at the age of 11.
“We’d find that he’d get very angry and worked up and it would take him a long time to calm himself down,” said the teacher, who was not identified.
By the age of 21, British intelligence reportedly suspected Emwazi was interested in joining extremist groups. He was detained during a trip to Tanzania and accused of really trying to join the Somali terror group al-Shabab, according to the British activist group CAGE.
After more reported run-ins with security services, Emwazi managed to slip out of the U.K. in 2012 and make his way to Syria to join ISIS.
Emwazi came of age in London as radical Islamists were urging young men to join the jihad against the U.S. and Britain. A prominent activist, Anjem Choudary, told ABC News Friday he did not know Emwazi, but called him a Muslim brother whose brutal acts he refused to condemn.
“I know who I want to condemn,” he said. “I want to condemn you guys for being the tongue of the biggest terrorists in the world, the Americans and their own allies, the British.”
The man who would be come to be known as "Jihadi John" first appeared in a string of disturbing videos produced by ISIS last August in which he appeared to slice the necks of Western hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. He was also seen in a video that showed the dead body of American aid worker Peter Kassig.
A month after the Foley video emerged, the FBI said it had learned "Jihadi John's" identity, but it was not revealed to the public.
Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, said that by identifying “Jihadi John” it sends a message to anyone who wants to hide “because they put something across their face.” “Somebody once said, ‘None are so brave as the anonymous.’ I think that one of the things this message says to this guy is that they aren’t going to be anonymous. I would advise this guy right now not to buy any green bananas. I think justice is going to find him,” King said.
State Dept Photo(LONDON) -– British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out on Friday in in defense of Britain’s intelligence agencies, after it emerged that Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi, had been known to MI5 before his flight to Syria.
Speaking in Wales, Cameron wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics, but said "I think they are incredibly impressive, hard-working, dedicated, courageous and effective at protecting our country.”
Cameron added the agencies have to make “incredibly difficult judgments” and have foiled several terror plots in the “last few months.”
“I think it is a moment to stand up and thank them for the work they do on our behalf,” he said.
Aqua Sirene(MONTREAL) -- In Disney's animated classic The Little Mermaid, the story's protagonist Ariel sings her little heart out about wanting to be "Part of Your World" and walk among the humans.
But in real life, many water enthusiasts pine for the opposite experience: acting out a fantasy of swimming as gracefully and buoyantly as a mermaid.
And now they can. No ticket to Atlantis, necessary.
AquaMermaid, which opened earlier this month in Montreal, Quebec, is a fitness program that bills itself as a "mermaid school," offering children and adults classes in which they can slip on a monofin and live to tell the tale.
"I’d been doing some modeling and a friend asked me to do an underwater photo shoot wearing a mermaid tail," explained founder Marielle Chartier Hénault, 24, on how she came up with the idea. "People kept stopping by the pool, laughing and smiling, and I felt like it was such a happy environment."
Inspired by the response she'd received at the photo shoot, Chartier Hénault decided to launch her own business offering the experience to others as part of a fitness program.
"Some people think it’s a joke, and in general they assume it’s really easy to move around [wearing a monofin] but once they put the tail on they realize you need to know how to swim," she told ABC News. "It’s hard, it involves a lot of core work and you really need to understand the weight movement of your body using the butterfly technique."
Because of the dual languages spoken in Montreal, the school operates under two names, AquaMermaid and the French translation AquaSirene.
But a mermaid's appeal appears to be universal.
Since launching in the first week of February, more than 150 people have signed up for classes, birthday parties or other private events featuring mermaid school instruction. All students receive a monofin to slip on during the workout with a plastic tail at the bottom and a colorful sleeve that wraps around the lower half of the body.
"It has been cool that so many men have come out," said Chartier Hénault, of her mermen students. "They quickly realized that it involved a lot of core muscles, cardio and a really good workout."
But more than any health benefits, Chartier Hénault feels she is allowing anyone from age 7 and up to live out a fantasy.
"It's more about having fun and having a dream come true," she said. "Nothing with mermaids existed before in Canada. I am hoping to bring the idea to the U.S. soon."
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Britain’s Prince Harry is planning to leave the military, ABC News has learned.
"Captain Wales," as he is known in the military, has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and his principle focus when he leaves active duty will be to continue to foster programs which support disabled veterans.
Harry, 30, is currently engaged in a U.K. Ministry of Defense recovery capability program to provide the appropriate assistance and support to the wounded, injured and sick who are trying to reintegrate into society.
Royal sources told ABC News, "Harry's work with service members remains intensely important to him."
Prince Harry, the fourth-in-line to the British throne, joined the British Army in May 2005 and rose to the rank of Apache helicopter commander in July after three years of training. The British Defense Ministry named Harry the best front-seat pilot, or co-pilot gunner, in February 2012 from his class of more than 20 fellow Apache helicopter pilots.
The prince returned to England in January 2013 from a five-month deployment to Afghanistan with the Royal Air Force’s 662 Squadron of the Army Air Corps, where he served as an Apache co-pilot gunner.
Harry also served on the front lines for two and one half months as a forward air controller in Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2007-2008 before his cover was blown and he returned to the U.K.
The Evening Standard's Royal Editor Robert Jobson, who first broke the story, cites a “senior source” as saying that Harry thought “long and hard about his decision to leave active military service.”
Last September, Prince Harry launched the high-profile Invictus Games in London, a four-day event that showcased injured service men and women from 14 countries competing in everything from cycling, wheelchair basketball and rugby to sitting volleyball and swimming.
“The point of them is to basically use the power of sport to help these guys through the rehabilitation,” Harry said at the time. “It’s basically a pathway to allow the wounded, injured and sick communities within the U.K. - and across the board as well because we’ve got 14 nations coming to it – giving them a pathway back into employment.”
Prince Harry is expected to spend several weeks with the Australian military forces before he leaves active service.
The royal source told ABC News, "Like many soldiers Prince Harry is at a cross roads in his military career and took time to evaluate, 'Do you continue as a career soldier or do you decide to pursue a different path?'"
Harry's main focus, the source added, will remain aiding veterans but he will have, "more time to focus on his other passion, conservation and wildlife issues in Africa."
Prince Harry is the co-founder of Sentebale, an AIDS charity he started with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho 10 years ago. The charity, which means "forget me not," was a tribute to their mothers. Sentebale aims to help the vulnerable children of Lesotho, which has the third-largest HIV/AIDS incidence in the world.
The move away from the military will allow Harry to spend more time with the children of LeSotho and pioneering programs to foster the work his charity has started there.
Prince Harry will also continue to represent his grandmother, Her Majesty The Queen, on official duties at home and abroad as a senior member of the royal family.
James Whatling - Pool/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Britain’s Prince William arrived in Tokyo in the rain Thursday, making a trip similar to the one made by his mother 20 years ago.
William, 32, waved to fans on Tokyo Bay and laid a wreath at the Yokohama War Cemetery to commemorate the fallen from World War II.
The prince is traveling without his wife, Duchess Kate, who is expecting the couple’s second child in April.
It was 20 years ago when his mother, the late Princess Diana of Wales, made a similar solo trip to Japan, surrounded by fans in what came to be known as, “Diana fever.”
“Over 100,000 people turned out to see her,” Patrick Jephson, Diana’s former private secretary, told ABC News.
“A few years before that she went with Prince Charles,” Jephson said. “Both visits very successful. Both very influential.”
While in Tokyo, Prince William met with one of Japan’s most famous astronauts, Soichi Noguchi, and revealed he once dreamed of being an astronaut.
“When I was younger, I dreamed of being an astronaut, but I also wanted to be a policeman or a fire-breather. That might have been a bit alternative,” said William, who instead chose a career as a helicopter pilot.
William’s next stop after Tokyo will be China, where he is not a household name.
On the eve of William’s arrival, however, China surprisingly announced that it will ban the import of elephant ivory products for one year, a change for which the prince has been advocating for years.
The last Royal trip to China came almost 30 years ago when William’s grandparents, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, visited the country.
Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- A Greek Orthodox seminary on Mount Zion in Jerusalem was vandalized on Thursday morning with nationalist and racist graffiti painted on the walls and a fire believed to have been set intentionally.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a press release that "it is inconceivable that an act like this could happen in a house of prayer." Calling the incident "a heinous crime." He added that those who took part in the crime "not only threaten to set fire to places of worship holy to all of us, but ignite the regional powder keg upon which we all sit."
Rivlin also spoke of the obligation to protect and conserve holy sites. "We cannot allow such attacks to sabotage the common fabric of our lives here," he said, "we all have a responsibility to put an end to these terrible acts."
Rivlin spoke with Patriarch Theophilos III of the seminary on Thursday.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat posted to Twitter on Thursday, condemning the attack and making a call to "eradicate this behavior & restore peace & coexistence in #Jerusalem."
I vigorously condemned the arson at the seminar this morning. We must eradicate this behavior & restore peace & coexistence in #Jerusalem.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. government has been “thinking about” and “working on” ways to either kill or capture the ISIS propagandist known as “Jihadi John,” the nation’s top law enforcement official says.
Over the past year, as it has been wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq and recruiting tens of thousands of fighters from around the world, ISIS has released several videos online showing the man with a distinctly British accent standing beside hostages from the United States and elsewhere as they were being beheaded.
“I think there is something to be said for holding accountable [and] getting at the people who are responsible for these barbaric acts,” Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas in what is likely to be one of Holder’s last TV interviews before stepping down.
The BBC and Washington Post Thursday identified “Jihadi John” as Mohammed Emwazi, a college graduate with a degree in computer programming who grew up in a part of London described by some as working class. He reportedly left for Syria in 2012 and then joined ISIS.
In the interview with ABC News, Holder refused to confirm those reports, insisting nothing “would be served” by revealing the true identity of the masked man.
“It would cut back any of the operational possibilities we have been considering,” Holder added.
Nevertheless, asked whether he can guarantee “Jihadi John” will face justice, Holder said: “The vow that I can make to the American people, along with our allies, is that we will hold accountable all of the people who have been responsible for these heinous, barbaric acts. ...That is something that we are focused on each and every day.”
President Obama echoed those sentiments, saying the United States is “consistent and we are patient.”
“Eventually, if you hurt an American, you are going to be brought to justice in some fashion,” the president said in an interview Thursday with ABC News’ Seattle affiliate, KOMO-TV. “I’m confident we will get the job done. ...It will take a little bit of time but in the end, this death cult that has developed there...is a dead end.”
Obtained by ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The man believed to be the ISIS terrorist dubbed "Jihadi John" has been identified as a British man named Mohammed Emwazi.
The terrorist's identity was first reported by the BBC and The Washington Post, which cited a friend who had "no doubt" that Emwazi was the masked man believed to be seen in at least seven ISIS beheading videos.
Emwazi was born in Kuwait, but moved to England when he was 6 years old, according to a rights group that worked with him in the years before he reportedly left England for Syria.
Emwazi's family lives in Queens Park, a neighborhood in North West London. The neighborhood is considered to be working class.
Neighbors told ABC News that Emwazi's relatives have not been seen at their home in the past week.
The University of Westminster confirmed to ABC News that a student by the same name left the school in 2009.
"If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news," a spokesman for the university said in a statement.
In 2010, Emwazi reportedly attempted to move to Kuwait but was stopped from doing so by British counter-terrorism officials, according to activist group CAGE.
CAGE describes itself as an "advocacy organisation" that regularly works on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees and Muslims who have been detained for terrorism. Their employee, Asim Qureshi, spoke Thursday about how communicated with Emwazi repeatedly between 2010 and 2012 when he is believed to have gone to Syria.
Qureshi described Emwazi as a "beautiful young man" when they met in the summer of 2009 to discuss Emwazi’s complaints about being detained and harassed by British authorities as he traveled.
He said he cannot confirm that the man in the video is Emwazi because his face is covered, but added that the personality is very different from the one he knew in London. He described Emwazi as kind, gentle and soft spoken.
He said Emwazi told him he didn't "want to live in a country where I’m treated as the enemy."
"What happened to him after then? I can’t tell you. I don’t know myself," Qureshi said.
Jihadi John gained international attention in August 2014 when he appeared to be the masked man who executed American journalist James Foley in a video that became the first in a disturbing string of similar executions.
He spoke English with a British accent in the video, hence his nickname, Jihadi John.
Though he always appeared covered, his voice and stature led experts to believe that he was also the figure pictured in at least six other videos showing the deaths of Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig, Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yakuawa.
Neither British nor American government officials have publicly confirmed the masked man's identity, but both have expressed concerns about how this revelation could impact ongoing investigations.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron said that he "would be concerned about information being put into the public domain at any time that might jeopardize ongoing police or security investigations or the safety of British citizens."
A press officer for the White House National Security Council issued a statement Thursday morning.
"The U.S. government continues to investigate the murder of American citizens by ISIL. We will not comment on ongoing investigations and therefore are not in a position to confirm or deny the identity of this individual. As the president has said, no matter how long it takes, the United States will not rest until we find and hold accountable the terrorists who are responsible for the murders of our citizens."
What to know:
The ISIS executioner dubbed "Jihadi John" has been named by news reports.
He is believed to be a Kuwait-born British man.
He attended college in London and his family lives there now.
He is thought to have fled to Syria in 2012.
He allegedly killed at least seven foreign captives on video.
Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Three alleged international arms dealers have been extradited to the U.S. from Europe to stand trial for allegedly conspiring to sell “military-grade” machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons to a Colombian terrorist group, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
The trio was arrested in December, at which time the Department of Justice described in a statement how the suspects allegedly had unwittingly attempted to unload their deadly wares on confidential sources working with the DEA.
The suspects believed the weapons were going to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the DOJ said.
“[The suspects] agreed to provide these weapons to the [DEA’s confidential sources] with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill Americans and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes,” the DOJ statement said.
“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in statement Thursday.
The Justice Department said the three – two alleged weapons brokers based in Romania and one in Greece – were spirited to the U.S. from Montenegro Wednesday and are expected to appear in court late Thursday.