Obama Extends 'Hand of Friendship' to Cuba
Following the release of American Alan Gross after five years of captivity in Cuba, President Obama announced Wednesday a major shift in U.S. policy toward the country.
Obama said he had started talks with the government of President Raul Castro to normalize relations, including opening an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, reviewing Cuba's terrorist designation and easing travel and monetary restrictions.
He also called on Congress to lift or ease the decades-old embargo.
“In the most significant change in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between the two countries,” Obama during an address from the White House.
Sources say Obama also plans to call on Congress to lift the long-standing embargo on Cuba. Together, the announcements would mark the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades and effectively end the half-century freeze in relations between the two countries.
Senior administration officials said Obama spoke with Cuban leader Raul Castro for more than 45 minutes on Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.
Obama also plans to take several executive actions, including expanding travel and economic ties to the island. According to a White House document, the U.S. government would raise remittance levels and authorize certain travel to Cuba, as well as start of review of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Obama also has formally directed the State Department to launch talks with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, which were cut in 1961. The embassy in Havana would be opened "in the coming months," according to the White House.
Watch Obama's full speech above and see the "Outnumbered" panel react in the clip below.