The United States criticized Cuba on Friday for denying imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross permission to visit his ailing mother as a humanitarian gesture.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland noted that the United States had allowed a convicted Cuban spy to return to Cuba to visit a sick relative.
"The Cuban government can't even grant that kind of humanity in a totally unequivocal situation to begin with," she said.
Gross, 63, was arrested in December 2009 for distributing laptops and communications equipment to members of Cuba's small Jewish community under a State Department contract.
Cuban foreign ministry official Josefina Vidal told CNN on Thursday that Gross could not leave the country because he began serving 2.5 years ago a 15-year sentence for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.The contractor has requested permission on repeated occasions to visit his sick 90-year-old mother.
"The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable. It is wrong. And it's an affront to human decency," Nuland said. "The Cuban government needs to do the right thing."
Nuland said Washington would not consider a prisoner exchange of Gross, who is reported to be in poor health, for five Cuban agents who were tried and imprisoned for espionage by the United States.
One of the so-called "Cuban Five," Rene Gonzalez, who was released on parole in October after serving 13 years in prison, was allowed to make a two week visit to Cuba in March to visit his cancer-stricken brother.
Vidal said the Cuban government was willing to negotiate to find a "humanitarian solution... on a basis of reciprocity," but offered no specifics.
"There's no equivalency in these situations, and the Cuban government knows that," said Nuland.
"On the one hand, you have convicted spies in the United States, and on the other hand, you have an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place.
"So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five and we are not contemplating any trade," she said.