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For the first time in 25 years, the US abstained from voting on the annual UN resolution calling for an end to America’s economic embargo against Cuba.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the historic decision reflected the new policy of engagement over isolation.

Diplomatic ties with Cuba were restored in 2015, but Republican-controlled Congress opposes lifting the longstanding embargo.

The vote passed overwhelmingly, with the support of 191 countries.

Only Israel abstained alongside the US.US lifts Cuba embargo 2015

The UN General Assembly has voted to approve the resolution every year since 1992, and the US has always strongly opposed it.

“After 55-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we are choosing to take the path of engagement,” Samantha Power said.

She added, however, that the abstention did “not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government”, including “serious human rights violations”.

The decision at the UN General Assembly led to immediate protest from US politicians opposed to lifting the embargo.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that the act imposing sanctions on Cuba was “the law of the United States, which should always be defended and upheld”.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Cuba was “grateful” for Samantha Power’s efforts.

“A change in vote by the United States is a promising signal,” he said.

“We hope it will be reflected in reality.”

While UN resolutions of this type are non-binding and non-enforceable, the annual resolution has for 25 years allowed Cuba to demonstrate that global opinion is against America’s Cuba policy.

Cuba says the embargo prevents sick people from being treated with much-needed US medical equipment and farmers from modernizing their agricultural methods.

G20 leaders at Saint Petersburg summit remain divided over the Syrian conflict as they enter the final day of their meeting.

Italian PM Enrico Letta said the splits were confirmed during a working dinner in St Petersburg on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Russian presidency said a US strike on Syria would “drive another nail into the coffin of international law”.

At the UN, the US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia of holding the Security Council hostage by blocking resolutions.

Samantha Power said the Security Council was no longer a “viable path” for holding Syria accountable for war crimes.

The US government accuses President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of killing 1,429 people in a poison-gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.

The UK says scientists at the Porton Down research laboratories have found traces of sarin gas on cloth and soil samples.

But Bashar al-Assad has blamed rebels for the attack. China and Russia, which have refused to agree to a Security Council resolution against Syria, insist any action without the UN would be illegal.

The US and France are the only nations at the G20 summit to commit to using force in Syria.

Samantha Power told a news conference in New York: “Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities.

G20 leaders at Saint Petersburg summit remain divided over the Syrian conflict as they enter the final day of their meeting

G20 leaders at Saint Petersburg summit remain divided over the Syrian conflict as they enter the final day of their meeting

“What we have learned, what the Syrian people have learned, is that the Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have.”

President Barack Obama is thought to be trying at the G20 summit to build an international coalition to back strikes against military targets in Syria.

But differences of opinion became obvious when world leaders – including Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin – discussed Syria over dinner on Thursday evening.

Enrico Letta said in a tweet that “the G20 has just now finished the dinner session, at which the divisions about Syria were confirmed”.

President Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said after the dinner that the G20 was split down the middle, with some countries seeking hasty action and others wanting the US to go through the UN Security Council.

British sources say the leaders of France, Turkey, Canada and the UK gave strong backing to President Barack Obama’s call for military action. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the Turks put a “very strong argument about how the world must respond to the use of chemical weapons”.

But correspondents in St Petersburg say opponents of US military intervention appear to far outnumber supporters within the G20.

However, the views of the G20 leaders on any US action could be the least of Barack Obama’s worries, as his real difficulties might lie back in the US.

He was nearly an hour late for Thursday’s G20 dinner. His aides said he had been trying to find time during the summit to call US members of Congress, who are due to vote next week on whether to back Barack Obama’s call for a military strike.

President Barack Obama also cancelled a trip to California on Monday in order to lobby Congress, as a poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC News suggested more than one-third of Congress members were undecided whether or not to back military action.

A majority of those who had made a decision said they would vote against the president.

Syria’s parliamentary speaker has written to the speaker of the House of Representatives urging members not to rush into an “irresponsible, reckless action”.

The Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on several occasions during the 30-month conflict.

Some 100,000 people have died in the conflict, and more than two million Syrians are classified as refugees, according to the UN.

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Venezuela announces it has “ended” steps towards restoring diplomatic ties with the US, after comments made by Samantha Power, who was nominated as the next envoy to the UN.

Samantha Power said this week she would seek to combat what she called the “crackdown on civil society” in countries including Venezuela.

She was speaking at a US Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The remarks prompted an angry response from Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela hereby ends the process… of finally normalizing our diplomatic relations,” said Venezuela’s foreign ministry in a statement.

It objected to Samantha Power’s “interventionist agenda”, noting that her “disrespectful opinions” were later endorsed by the state department, “contradicting in tone and in content” earlier statements by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Venezuela announces it has "ended" steps towards restoring diplomatic ties with the US, after comments made by Samantha Power

Venezuela announces it has “ended” steps towards restoring diplomatic ties with the US, after comments made by Samantha Power

Relations between the US and Venezuela have been strained in recent years. They last had ambassadors in each other’s capitals in 2010.

Washington angered Caracas by backing the Venezuelan opposition’s demand for a full recount of the presidential election in April to replace Hugo Chavez, who died in March.

Hugo Chavez’s anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, won the vote by less than two percentage points.

In June, the two countries had tentatively agreed to work towards improving their strained relations, after Venezuela freed and deported a US filmmaker who had been held on conspiracy charges.

During a regional summit in Guatemala, John Kerry said he had agreed with Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on an “ongoing, continuing dialogue” in order to “establish a more constructive and positive relationship”.

He said the US wanted to “begin to change the dialogue between our countries and hopefully quickly move the appointments of ambassadors between our nations”.

Elias Jaua said at the time that for Venezuela it was important to build a relationship based on the principles of mutual respect and no interference in internal affairs.

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