The United States will "immediately" begin talks with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, US President Barack Obama said Wednesday, marking a sea change in US policy that has seen ties suspended since January 1961.
"Isolation has not worked," Obama said. "It's time for a new approach."
Obama has instructed US Secretary of State John Kerry “to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations”, which were severed in January 1961.
“We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” Obama said.
In the coming months, a US embassy will be re-established in Havana and high-level exchanges between the two governments will be initiated as part of the normalisation process.
Speaking as Obama delivered his speech from the White House, Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the restoration of ties with the United States. In a nationally broadcast speech, he said profound differences remain between Havana and Washington on areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty.
But he said the two countries must learn to negotiate their differences “in a civilised manner”, adding: “We propose to the Government of the United States the adoption of mutual steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and advance towards normalisation of relations between our two countries, based on the principles of International Law and the United Nations Charter.”
The White House said earlier in the day that the decision to suspend diplomatic ties for more than a half-century had failed to achieve the desired effect and in some ways had undercut US interests.
“It is clear that decades of US isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House said in a statement ahead of the president's remarks. “At times, longstanding US policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, [and] constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere.”
The new relaxed rules will allow the United States to work with Cuba “on matters of mutual concern” including migration, counter-narcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking, the White House said.