The highest-ranking United States official to visit Cuba in 35 years has met with leading Cuban dissidents.

However, one prominent opposition figure declined to meet Roberta Jacobson, the State Department's top official for Latin America, due to differences over warming relations between Washington and Havana.

Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White group of spouses of political prisoners, had been expected to attend the meeting with the US official, but turned down the invitation.

"I did not participate," Soler told the AFP news agency.

"My decision was due to there not being a balance in terms of the diversity of opinion of the participants."

"If a diversity of opinions is sought, if differences are respected, then it should be balanced," she said.

Dissidents who did attend the breakfast meeting under crystal chandeliers at the lavish mansion of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana played down the differences.

"This question of whether or not we welcome this dialogue between the US and Cuban government is secondary because what's important is that we remain united in that freedom, democracy and respect of human rights are the fundamental issues in this case," Daniel Ferrer, the leader of a dissident group in western Cuba, told reporters.

He said they told Jacobson: "What we told every foreign government official with whom we speak, which is the importance of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and people."

Jacobson's doubts

Late on Thursday night, Jacobson said that the US would make decisions intended to "empower the Cuban people," adding "The verdict on whether that succeeds is still to be made."

She told reporters that "Cuba has never responded to pressure."

Jacobson made a point of meeting with the dissidents on Friday, a day after leading the highest-level US talks in 35 years with Cuba to discuss reopening embassies in their respective capitals. It is a key step in normalising ties after more than 50 years of hostile relations.

US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro surprised the world last month when they simultaneously announced plans to mend ties severed since 1961.

Jacobson is the most senior US official to visit Cuba since an envoy of then president Jimmy Carter met with Fidel Castro in 1980.
The leader of Cuba's 1959 revolution has yet to publicly comment about the detente that his brother Raul has launched with his old enemy.

Source: Agencies