Cuban officials head to US for oil slick talks

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US and Cuban officials are holding "working level" talks on how to respond to the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is believed to be dumping 5,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to State Department officials.

The talks add to signs of concern that strong currents could carry the slick far from the site of the spill, possibly threatening the Florida Keys and the pristine white beaches along Cuba's northern coast. They are also a rare moment of co-operation between two countries locked in conflict for more than half a century.

"I can confirm that they are ongoing and going on at the working level," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters in Washington. "It is incumbent upon us to inform all of our neighbours, not just the islands, but those countries that could be affected by disasters that happen within our territorial waters."

It was not clear if the US has offered assistance to Havana in the event the oil hits Cuban beaches, or if officials in Cuba would accept.

Relations between the US and Cuba are at a low, despite optimism that President Barack Obama would usher in a new spirit of co-operation. Still, the two countries have pushed to improve co-operation in dealing with natural disasters and fighting drug trafficking, and have resumed twice-yearly conversations on immigration.

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