Cuba Urges Obama to Make Moves to Normalize Diplomatic Relations

Cuba's foreign minister urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to keep his promise to ease restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island, saying it would be a positive step toward normalizing diplomatic relations.

Felipe Perez Roque told reporters at the opening of Pakistan's new embassy in Havana that "we are willing, as we've always said, to one day normalize relations between the United States and Cuba."

Obama has said he plans to loosen restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to travel or send money to Cuba. Those with relatives here are currently allowed to visit only once every three years.

Perez Roque said Havana would view such changes positively — calling them "a positive first step" — but he repeated the communist government's demands that Washington close its military prison at Guantanamo Bay, rewrite immigration rules for Cuban migrants and completely lift nearly 50-year-old economic sanctions that outlaw nearly all trade with the island and prohibit U.S. tourists from visiting.

"Cuba's position is very clear," he said. "We firmly demand the lifting of the embargo, the ceasing of extraterritorial measures taken to persecute our trade with other countries."

Ending the embargo entirely would require congressional approval, and Obama has said he does not intend to do that.

Perez Roque spoke a day after former President Fidel Castro wrote in an essay that with Obama, "a conversation can be held wherever he wants."

Raul Castro, who succeeded his ailing, 82-year-old older brother in February, recently said he would be willing to talk with Obama.