Obama: U.S. Seeks 'New Beginning' with Cuba

President Obama arrived in Trinidad and Tobago this afternoon for the start of a summit with Latin American leaders -- and though the White House wants to focus on the economy, energy and security, Cuba will be front and center.

Before he departed for his first trip south of the border, Obama preemptively loosened travel, commerce and mail restrictions on Cuba, but he still may face pressure from Latin American leaders who feel that steps were not enough.

President Obama arrived in Trinidad and Tobago this afternoon for the start of a summit with Latin American leaders -- and though the White House wants to focus on the economy, energy and security, Cuba will be front and center.

Before he departed for his first trip south of the border, Obama preemptively loosened travel, commerce and mail restrictions on Cuba.

Tonight, he said the United States seeks "a new beginning" with the Communist nation.

"I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day," Obama said.

Obama reiterated that he is willing to sit down with Cuban leaders to discuss a wide range of issues -- including human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration, and economic issues -- but he wants the conversations to be substantive.

"Let me be clear: I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction," Obama said.

But Obama still may face pressure from Latin American leaders who feel that steps were not enough. There is widespread support among Latin American leaders for Obama to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba that was enacted by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, six months after Obama was born.

Latin America experts say that many of the most influential leaders in the region, like President Lula of Brazil, have been speaking in unison for Obama to make a major overhaul of the nation's policy toward Cuba.

"Cuba has enormous symbolism. It's a symbol of Latin America's defiance of Washington and it's a symbol of Washington throwing its weight around with Latin America," said Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations. "So the symbolism of doing something serious with Cuba for Latin America is very high. The substance of the policy is important too."

Through his Latin American swing, he's been telling Cuban leaders that the ball is now in their court.

"There are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they wanted to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years," Obama said Thursday in Mexico City.

The steps for which the administration is pushing include the Cuban government freeing political prisoners and allowing freedom of speech, religion and travel.

While meeting with other leftist leaders in Venezuela this week, Cuban President Raoul Castro said that he is ready to sit down at the table with the United States and nothing is off-limits.

"We have sent word to the United States that we are ready to discuss everything," Castro said, "human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration welcomes this overture from Cuba.

"We're taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond," she said.

Castro also acknowledged that Cuba may be in the wrong on this issue.

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