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US Congressional Delegation Calls for Easing Cuban Restrictions

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. turns his camera on reporters after a news conference in Havana, Cuba, June 27, 2015.

The head of a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation visiting Cuba is calling on U.S. lawmakers to back White House efforts to establish full diplomatic relations with Havana.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, speaking Saturday in the Cuban capital, called for full U.S. embassy operations as part of a push to "put the best face on the United States forward."

Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, speaking alongside Leahy and Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, said President Barack Obama "is right in this case." He also said an expanded embassy and other changes that must occur for travel were things that could be accomplished before Obama leaves office in 2017.

The two countries have been negotiating terms for re-establishing full ties, following last year's White House announcement of its intention to do so. Diplomatic relations were severed after the communist government of Fidel Castro took power more than 50 years ago.

The U.S. delegation met Friday with Cuba's first vice president, Miguel Diaz Canel, but did not disclose the content of those talks.

Several Cuba-related bills are pending in the U.S. Senate, facing an uncertain future. Among them is a bill to remove an existing travel ban on Americans, and another to rescind a decades-old U.S. economic embargo.

Those initiatives are opposed by the Republican leadership in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Earlier this month, the House defeated a measure that would have relaxed travel restrictions.