— -- President Obama for the first time publicly acknowledged the U.S. is negotiating with Cuba for the release of American contractor Alan Gross through a “variety of channels.”
In an interview with Jorge Ramos for Fusion — a sister network to ABC News - Obama said, “We’ve been in conversations about how we can get Alan Gross home for quite some time.”
Gross is being held on espionage charges in Havana for the past five years, and sources who have visited with Gross recently told ABC News his health has vastly deteriorated.
He has lost all but one of his front teeth, can barely walk because of hip damage, and is blind in one eye.
“We continue to be concerned about him. We think that he shouldn’t have been held in the first place,” Obama told Ramos. “With respect to Cuba generally, I’ve made very clear that the policies that we have in making remittances easier for Cuban families, and making it easier for families to travel, have been helpful to people inside Cuba... But the Cuban government still needs to make significant changes.”
Last week Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the detention of Gross has been a barrier to more constructive talks with the island nation.
"The Cuban government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba," he said.
Sources have told ABC News previously that the Obama administration takes seriously promises by Gross to not spend another year in the Cuban military hospital and to begin a possible death inducing hunger strike by the end of this year, and is looking for a solution with the Cuban government.
For more on Ramos’ interview with the president go to Fusion.net