Cuba has once again used the United Nations as a forum to call for the lifting of the U.S. economic and trade embargo, imposed on the Castro government in 1962. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters Thursday that his country has always been ready for normal relations with the United States, and that Cuba is not a threat to U.S. national security.

He said the U.S. embargo has cost Cuba nearly $90 billion over the past fifty years, and he called once again for it to be lifted. "Last November, 184 members of United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of lifting the blockade against Cuba. And really, the decision has to be taken here by the U.S. government. The U.S. embargo against Cuba has to be lifted. There is no reason to maintain this policy. That is today the most important violation of the human rights of all of our people. It has to be decided without any condition whatsoever," he said.

Cuban President Fidel Castro announced earlier this week that he was stepping down due to poor health, officially handing the reigns of power to his younger brother, Raul. The Bush administration greeted the announcement with disappointment, saying there would be no change in policy toward Cuba and the embargo would remain in effect.

The Cuban foreign minister was at the United Nations to sign two international human rights agreements.