Obama: Ball (Correctly) in Castro's Court

Saturday, July 25, 2009

President Barack Obama said Friday he's open to more overtures to Cuba, such as lifting restrictions on academic travel to the island, but not without signs of changes from the government in Havana.

"We're not there yet,'' he said. "We think it's important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries.''

In April, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and eased restrictions on U.S. telecommunications firms to do business there. And the administration last week resumed talks with Cuban officials on what Obama called a "narrow set of issues,'' chiefly migration.

But Obama said further steps may take time.

Obama referenced last week's "government-to-government conversations'' in New York and said that the administration's "hope is that if we're seeing progress on those issues, then they can begin to broaden.''

"We're taking it step by step, seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that we've been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government side,'' he added.

"I don't think it's going to be happening overnight. I think it's going to be a work in progress.''