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Obama, Raul Castro thank Pope Francis for mediation

 5336484b718c626dcac6f3c85186936b.jpgNew York, December 17 - United States President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro on Wednesday announced an historic thaw in relations between the two countries.

"We will start to normalise our relations with Cuba," Obama said in a television address.

"We'll put an end to this outdated approach to Cuba... I have given Secretary of State John Kerry the mandate to launch immediate negotiations to revive the dialogue that stopped in 1961...

"I'll talk to Congress to remove the embargo". "Todos somos Americanos," he added, using Spanish to announce the turning point in relations. The US is set to start ending some restrictions related to Cuba, including limits on travel, money transfers and communications to the communist country in the Caribbean.

Both leaders spoke to their nations to present the thaw after a prisoner swap deal involving the release of American Alan Gross by Cuba and three Cubans convicted of spying in the US. Gross, 65, was accused of helping Cubans up to the internet illegally. The released Cubans are part of the so-called Cuban Five, who prosecutors tried to infiltrate US military bases and spied on Cuban exiles in Florida.

Both leaders also thanked Pope Francis for his mediation for the breakthrough.

The pope wrote letters to Obama and Castro and received delegations from both States as part of the negotiations.

"I'd like to thank Pope Francis," Obama said. Castro thanked the Vatican and "in particular Pope Francis". The Argentine pontiff voiced satisfaction.

"The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history," read a Vatican statement. "The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens".


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