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Kerry: US-Cuba Thaw Will Advance Interests for Both

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says President Barack Obama's decision to normalize relations with Cuba will advance U.S. interests as well as those of the Cuban people.

In an opinion piece published Saturday in the Miami Herald, Kerry said the 11 million people of Cuba have waited far too long - more than half a century - to, in his words, "fulfill their democratic aspirations" and build closer ties with the rest of the world. Kerry said Obama's decision reflected a "historic turning of the page" in the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Kerry said in future bilateral discussions with Cuba, the United States would seek to advance cooperation on such topics of mutual interest as counter-narcotics, migration, human trafficking, the Ebola virus, and shared environmental challenges. But, Kerry added, the United States would continue strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.

Obama's move to restore diplomatic relations with the communist-run Caribbean island nation won praise from Cuba's leader Raul Castro Saturday. But Castro told his nation that this did not mean the end of communist rule in Cuba.

In televised remarks, Castro said he was open to discussing a wide range of issues with U.S. officials expected to visit Havana next month. He also confirmed he would attend the Summit of Americas in Panama in April, where he is expected to meet with Obama.

President Castro's speech Saturday was his first public comment since the diplomatic breakthrough was announced simultaneously by the two countries' presidents.

Castro said Cuba would accelerate its economic reform program, wth the goal of creating a form of “prosperous and sustainable communism.” But he emphasized that changes would be gradual.

Reports from Havana said President Castro ended his speech with the words "Viva Fidel," hailing his brother, who led the revolutionary force that seized power in Cuba in 1959. Fidel Castro, who relinquished the presidency to his brother has not been seen or spoken in public this week. The 88-year-old national hero yielded the presidency to his brother Raul, who is five years younger, in April 2011.

Presidents Obama and Castro's announcement of their plans to normalize relations more than 50 years electrified the Americas and sparked widespread speculation about how rapidly the two countries could move closer. White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said it was possible Obama could visit Havana before his term as president ends in January 2017.

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