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US Senators Say Raul Castro Eager to Maintain US Relations

  • VOA News

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, center, speaks during a press conference alongside Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, second from right, Senator Thad Cochran of Minnesota, second from left, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, far left and U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, far right, at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 22, 2017.

A group of U.S. congressmen who just returned from a visit to Cuba say Cuban President Raul Castro appears to want to continue working on improved ties with Washington despite U.S. President Donald Trump's vow to reverse direction.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime advocate of better ties with Cuba, told reporters Wednesday that Castro expressed his desire to continue work on market-oriented reforms.

Leahy added that Castro gave the group two signed copies of a speech he gave last month in the Dominican Republic that expressed a desire to work with Trump.

That speech is the only real indication from the Cuban government of its intentions with the new U.S. administration. In the speech, Castro said he wanted to keep negotiating the bilateral relationship with the United States and "pursue respectful dialogue and cooperation on themes of common interest with the new government of President Donald Trump."

WATCH: US Senators Visit Cuba, Seeking Improved Ties

Senator Thad Cochran, one member of the group accompanying Leahy on the trip, told reporters Wednesday that the Trump administration seems to have "a new openness, a willingness to take chances," although he allowed that such spontaneity could be problematic in negotiations with Cuba.

"I think that [the spontaneity] has people a little nervous," Cochran said, "because you don't know what the new president's going to announce or say in the next minute."

Senator Tom Udall, another member of the group, answered a reporter's question about "moving toward a new perspective on Cuba." He told the reporter that the United States and Cuba "have already built on several issues — bipartisan, pro-engagement amendments."

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution that put communist leader Fidel Castro in power. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, who had taken over for his brother Fidel six years earlier, began the process of normalizing relations.

Obama became the first U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba when he traveled to Havana in March 2016. Since then, the United States has begun easing travel and trade restrictions with the island nation.

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