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US Official: Ending Cuba Embargo Will Take Time

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, right, talks with Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez before a meeting in Havana, Cuba, Oct. 7, 2015.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker wrapped up her visit to Cuba on Wednesday by saying both sides need to learn more about each other as they work to improve relations.

She also reiterated that President Barack Obama wants to see an end to the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-ruled island, but she cautioned that won't happen quickly.

"The president wants to see the embargo lifted, but the president realizes it will take time," she said, alluding to the fact that many Republican lawmakers and some Democrats oppose lifting the embargo at this stage.

Pritzker said that the delegation she led to Havana came to begin a dialogue about economic regulation so both sides "can learn from one another."

Currency system

She said Cuba's dual currency system is a challenge for outside business interests and the island's regulatory system isn't adequate to attract large investment.

Earlier in the day, Pritzker urged the Cuban government to let private enterprise thrive and to give its citizens greater access to the Internet.

"We urge President Castro and his government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to trade and travel more freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to access the Internet and to [be] hired directly by foreign companies," she said.

Pritzker, who brought a delegation of officials from the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments, opened her visit Tuesday with a stop at the Mariel free trade zone outside the capital of Havana.

She is the most senior U.S. official to travel to Cuba since Secretary of State John Kerry visited Aug. 14 for a flag-raising ceremony outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, which is now upgraded to a full embassy following restoration of relations in July.

Incremental steps

Cuba's foreign ministry said in a statement the goal of the meetings with Pritzker's group was an "exchange over the reach and limitations of the measures recently taken by the U.S. government to modify some aspects of the application of the embargo against Cuba."

Since the Dec. 17 announcement that the former Cold War foes would work toward normalization of relations, the Obama administration has eased some economic restrictions on Cuba. While the trade embargo remains in place under U.S. law, Obama is allowing U.S. firms to send supplies to private Cuban businesses, and export telephones, computers and Internet technology.

The U.S. government also has eliminated the previous limit on remittances that people can send to relatives on the island, among other measures.