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US Intelligence Chief: Castro Death Imminent

The U.S. director of national intelligence says Cuban President Fidel Castro is very ill and could be close to death.

The Washington Post newspaper on Friday quoted John Negroponte as saying the U.S. has seen indications that Mr. Castro could die within months rather than years.

Also Friday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in a speech in Caracas that he had spoken to Mr. Castro by telephone twice the day before. Mr. Chavez denied that Mr. Castro has cancer.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Reuters news service she thinks there will be pressure for change in Cuba after Mr. Castro's death. She said the best way to handle that pressure is through a democratic process.

Meanwhile, a group of U.S. lawmakers is in Havana to assess the situation there.

The 10-member delegation is headed by Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Massachusetts Democrat William Delahunt. The two advocate easing the U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba.

The U.S. lawmakers reportedly are seeking a meeting with Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raul, but it is not clear whether the meeting will take place. Raul Castro is running the country while his brother recovers from intestinal surgery.

Raul Castro appealed for talks with the United States earlier this month during a national celebration of his brother's 80th birthday.

But a senior official in the U.S. State department, Tom Shannon, said he does not foresee any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba until a leader there commits to change.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.