March 24, 2015 / 11:05 PM / in 3 years

Russian foreign minister praises new U.S.-Cuba relations

HAVANA (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations on Tuesday during a six-hour stop in Havana, his first visit here since the United States and Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic ties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Lavrov, on a Latin American tour that will also take him to Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala, met with President Raul Castro and other top Cuban officials.

“Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” Lavrov said via interpreter in video carried on Venezuela’s Telesur network.

U.S. President Barack Obama reversed longstanding Cuba policy in December, agreeing with Castro to restore diplomatic relations and seek to end more than five decades of animosity between the old Cold War rivals.

The change has led to bilateral talks in Havana and Washington, with the two sides potentially reaching an agreement on diplomatic relations before Obama and Castro both attend a regional summit in Panama in April.

Obama also wants to end the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba but cannot do so without approval from the Republican-controlled Congress.

“We call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible,” Lavrov said.

Cuba has repaired its relations with Russia, which were severely strained after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the new Russian government cut off generous subsidies to Cuba, leading to a protracted economic crisis.

Oil-rich Venezuela has since replaced Moscow as chief benefactor to Cuba’s Communist government.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler

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