The United States and Cuba have agreed to resume bilateral talks on migration issues next month, a US state department official has said.

The announcement came as Havana and Washington wrapped up a round of separate negotiations aimed at restarting direct mail service, which has been suspended since 1963.

The migration talks will be held in Washington on July 17, the official said on Wednesday. The planned talks are the latest evidence of a thaw in chilly relations between the two countries, who have been enemies since the Cold War era.

Since taking office, US President Barack Obama has relaxed travel and remittance rules for Cuban Americans and made it far easier for others to visit the island for cultural, educational and religious reasons.

Obama, however, has continued to criticise the government of President Raul Castro for the alleged repression of basic civil and human rights.

Cuba on Wednesday issued a statement declaring the recently concluded mail talks as "welcome" and "fruitful", but also said its delegation had informed the Americans that "a high quality, stable and secure" mail service between the countries is impossible as long as Washington maintains its 51-year economic embargo on the communist-run island.

'Concession after concession'

A nascent effort at rapprochement between Washington and Havana has stalled since the arrest of Alan Gross, a US government subcontractor, who is serving a 15-year jail sentence in Havana after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally.

Gross was working on a USAID democracy building programme at the time of his arrest in December 2009. Washington has said repeatedly that no major improvement in relations can occur until he is released.

Cuba, for its part, is demanding the release of four of its intelligence agents serving long sentences in the US. A fifth agent, Rene Gonzalez, returned home to Havana earlier this year after completing his sentence and agreeing to renounce his US citizenship.

Word of the jump-started talks sparked an angry reaction from Cuban-American Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who blasted the Obama administration for what she saw as a policy of appeasement.

"First we get news that the Obama State Department is speaking with a top Castro regime diplomat. Then comes the announcement that the administration is restarting talks with the dictatorship regarding direct mail between both countries," Ros-Lehtinen said.

"Now we hear that migration talks will be restarted. It's concession after concession from the Obama administration."

Source: Agencies