December 18, 2015 / 7:59 PM / in 2 years

Cuba's Castro says U.S. can do more to normalize relations

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba is willing to keep improving relations with the United States even though Washington has failed to meet its key demands for normalization, Cuban President Raul Castro said on Friday, a day after the anniversary of detente.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Castro, 84, the younger brother of retired leader Fidel Castro, spoke to top government and party leaders in an address broadcast on state TV without prior notice.

He hailed advances the two countries have made since Dec. 17 last year when he and U.S. President Barack Obama announced they would seek to normalize ties and set aside decades of Cold War-era hostilities.

But he said they had “not made any progress” on issues Cuba considers necessary for normal relations, such as ending the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba and U.S. withdrawal from the naval base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay. He also said Obama could exert more of his executive authority on Cuba.

“The government of Cuba is fully willing to continue advancing in the construction of a kind of relation with the United States that is different from the one that has existed throughout its prior history, that is based on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence,” said Castro, dressed in his four-star general’s uniform.

Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic ties in July and have reached agreements on restarting direct mail service and environmental protection. On Thursday they struck a deal to re-establish scheduled airline flights.

Obama’s administration embarked on rapprochement after concluding that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba had failed. But even as the two countries draw closer, Washington continues to criticize the Communist, one-party political system.

Obama told Yahoo News in an interview released on Monday about the anniversary that he hopes to visit Cuba in 2016, but only if he is able to meet with political dissidents and if he can possibly “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

Human rights, Castro said, was one area “on which we have profound differences and about which we are having an exchange on the basis of respect and reciprocity.”

Castro also reiterated Cuba’s commitment to socialism and bemoaned U.S. programs aimed at undermining the Cuban government, such as support for dissidents.

“No one should expect that, in order to normalize relations with the United States, Cuba will renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have struggled throughout more than half a century,” Castro said.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Jaime Hamre, editing by Frances Kerry and Richard Chang

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