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2 attack talks on closer ties between U.S., Cuba in drug war

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Clinton administration sees the possibility of enhanced U.S. counter-narcotics cooperation with Cuba, but two Cuban-American lawmakers argue it is ridiculous to do business with a regime that they say collaborates with drug chieftains.

Four U.S. officials, none high-ranking, met Monday in Havana with Cuban officials to discuss possible telephone links to improve communications on suspected drug shipments through the Caribbean and the straits of Florida. At present, communications are limited to telex links.Official contacts between the two sides are generally restricted to migration issues but discussions on narcotics flows are not unprecedented. Participating in Monday's meeting were two State Department and two Coast Guard officials. They had no plans to offer assistance to Cuba, to share intelligence or to discuss joint operations, said a State Department official, who asked not to be identified.

Michael Ranneberger, who heads the State Department's office of Cuban affairs, said the meeting was not part of an effort to normalize relations with Cuba.

"This is not a policy change," he said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., objected strongly to the meeting, saying it was preposterous for the administration to give Cuban President Fidel Castro credibility on the drug issue. She said Castro is notorious for helping drug traffickers. Similar objections were voiced by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who, like Ros-Lehtinen, is a Cuban-born South Florida Republican.