Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has described as "magnificent" a recent meeting with three Democratic U.S. lawmakers, and is urging Washington to take the initiative to improve ties with Havana.
Mr. Castro's comments appeared in Cuba's state-run media Wednesday, one day after he met with California Representative Barbara Lee and two other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was the first known meeting between Mr.Castro and U.S. officials since he became ill in July 2006.
The legislators were part of a larger delegation that traveled to the communist-led island late last week on a five-day trip.
Lee told reporters on returning to Washington Tuesday that the long-standing U.S. embargo against Cuba has not worked, and that it is time to look at a new direction in U.S. policy toward the island. The embargo has been in place since the early 1960s.
Lee has co-sponsored a bill that would lift long-standing restrictions on U.S. citizens' travel to Cuba. Identical legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
The meeting with Fidel Castro took place one day after members of the delegation held talks with President Raul Castro. The Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said the discussions focused on the development of bilateral relations and economic ties.
Lee also told reporters in Washington that Fidel Castro was "very energetic" during the Tuesday meeting. She said a wide range of issues was discussed with the former president, who underwent surgery in 2006 and handed power to his younger brother, Raul Castro. Raul Castro officially assumed the Cuban presidency in February of last year.
Mr. Castro said Tuesday he is ready to talk with the United States on "on any matter," as long as Washington acknowledges Cuba's sovereignty and right to self-determination.
Separately, White House officials said President Barack Obama soon will move to ease some travel and financial restrictions against Cuba, perhaps before next week's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. President Obama has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders, but would maintain a long-standing economic embargo as leverage to push for democratic change on the island.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.