Cuba says Obama visit will be a 'step forward'Thursday 18 February 2016 23.53
Cuba has hailed a planned visit by US President Barack Obama next month as a step towards mending bilateral relations and expressed a willingness to discuss human rights with the US leader.
Mr Obama will visit Cuba on 21 and 22 March and meet Cuban President Raul Castro, in the first US presidential trip to the country in nearly 90 years.
Mr Obama said that while the United States still has differences with Cuba, it has already made significant progress in normalising ties with the its former Cold War adversary.
The head of US relations at the Cuban foreign ministry said "his visit will represent a step forward in the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States."
The two nations made a surprise announcement in December 2014 that they would move to reopen ties.
"(Fourteen) months ago, I announced that we would begin normalising relations with Cuba - and we've already made significant progress," Mr Obama wrote on Twitter.
Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016
He had said he would visit the neighbouring Communist-ruled nation if he were able to meet with political dissidents on the trip.
He said: "We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world."
During the trip, Mr Obama will have the opportunity to meet Mr Castro, Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, wrote in separate blog post.
Officials yesterday had said the Cuba visit will be part of Mr Obama's broader trip to Latin America.
A Cuban official said in order to achieve the normalisation of relations between the two countries, the five-decade US trade embargo must be lifted and "the territory occupied by the naval base in Guantanamo has to be returned".