Kerry asks Vatican for help freeing Gross from Cuba

Secretary of State John Kerry this week asked the Vatican to intercede in helping to free American Jewish contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban jail.

In a Jan. 14 meeting with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Kerry said they discussed Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and human rights in the island nation.

“I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that they might be able to be of assistance with respect to that issue,” Kerry told reporters following the meeting.

Gross, 64, a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. The Maryland resident is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”

In a letter sent last month, Gross asked President Barack Obama to personally help secure his release.

The Cuban government has indicated that it wants the United States to allow the return to Cuba of five spies in prison or on probation in the U.S. in return for negotiations on Gross. — jta