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Cuba’s Raul Castro urges US to lift trade embargo

Cuban President Raul Castro urges Washington to lift its trade and economic embargo on the communist island.

Cuba’s president on Wednesday urged Washington to lift its trade and economic embargo on the island in order to fully mend the frosty ties between the two long-standing adversaries.

“As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President (Barack) Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations,” Raul Castro said in a televised address.

It was the first such call between U.S. and Cuban leaders since 1961.

The promise of normalizing full diplomatic relations is part of a deal which saw a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Cuban authorities on Wednesday released American contractor Alan Gross, 65, on humanitarian grounds, followed by a U.S. move to free three convicted Cuban spies in return.

“President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgement of our people,” Castro said.

But the Cuban president said the deal does not mean that the heart of the matter has been solved.

“The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease,” he said in translated remarks.

Since 1960, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in response to the communist state’s decision to nationalize all U.S. businesses on the island.

“Though the blockade has been codified into law, the President of the United States has the executive authority to modify its implementation,” Castro said, expressing a willingness to cooperate with multilateral bodies, including the United Nations.

For his part, Obama also welcomed the agreement to “end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.”

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” he said during a televised national address.

The U.S. plans to open an embassy in Havana “in the coming months,” according to the White House. In addition, travel bans will be eased, but tourist travel will remain banned for the time being.

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