Obama: US will ease Cuban embargo, open embassy in Havana

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Alan Gross American Prisoner in Cuba Released
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Obama: US will ease Cuban embargo, open embassy in Havana
Alan Gross, speaks alongside his wife Judy, during a press conference after being released by Cuba on December 17, 2014 in Washington,DC. Gross, an American contractor jailed on the communist-ruled island since 2009, was released amid signs of an imminent thaw in ties between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 17: Alan Gross (L), recently released by Cuban authorities, and his wife Judy (R) arrive for brief remarks during a press conference at his lawyer's office shortly after arriving in the United States December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Following months of Cuban and American negotiations to secure Gross's release, the two nations also agreed to normalize relations after more than 50 years of tension. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 17: Alan Gross, with his wife Judy, makes a statement to the news media at the law offices of Gilbert LLC after arriving back in the United States December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. A United States Agency for International Develpment contractor, Gross was imprisoned in Cuba for five years on espionage charges after he delivered satellite telephone equipment to Jews living on the island. Gross' release is signalling a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations as President Barack Obama announced a political thawing between the two countries, the first in more than 50 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Alan Gross, smiles during a press conference after being released by Cuba on December 17, 2014 in Washington,DC. Gross, an American contractor jailed on the communist-ruled island since 2009, was released amid signs of an imminent thaw in ties between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 17: Alan Gross makes a statement to the news media at the law offices of Gilbert LLC after arriving back in the United States December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. A United States Agency for International Develpment contractor, Gross was imprisoned in Cuba for five years on espionage charges after he delivered satellite telephone equipment to Jews living on the island. Gross' release is signalling a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations as President Barack Obama announced a political thawing between the two countries, the first in more than 60 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Alan Gross, alongside his wife Judy, waves as he leaves a press conference after being released by Cuba on December 17, 2014 in Washington,DC. Gross, an American contractor jailed on the communist-ruled island since 2009, was released amid signs of an imminent thaw in ties between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks Wednesday from the Cabinet Room, at the White House, in Washington, D.C., regarding the thaw in Cuba - U.S. relations. (White House)
RT @ChrisVanHollen: .@SenatorLeahy, Sen. Flake and I meet Alan Gross at the airport in Cuba to bring him home http://t.co/mqXH3pDa9K
President Obama speaks with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, in a photo released by the White House. (The White House / Pete Souza)
Sen. Ben Cardin, Alan Gross, Judy Gross http://t.co/ZrW1HavQ4F
Here's Alan Gross on our flight from Cuba as the pilot announced we had entered U.S. Airspace. http://t.co/AVvb7FEMN9
FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo provided by James L. Berenthal, shows jailed American Alan Gross poses for a photo during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba. The mother of an American man who was imprisoned in Cuba while working to set up Internet access there has died. The family of 92-year-old Evelyn Gross said Wednesday that she died in Plano, Texas. She had suffered from lung cancer. Gross’ son Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009. The Maryland man had been working covertly in Cuba as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's U.S. Agency for International Development. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File)
Alan Gross. Back on U.S. soil. http://t.co/Ut5jvdQGg2
Alan and Judy Gross. Together again. Just before leaving Cuba this morning. #alangross http://t.co/cdIlIkYfF3
Rene Gonzales, the first liberated cuban spy, on his way to greet the last three released of the #cuban5 http://t.co/HGwDmUofWJ
.@JohnKerry embraces #AlanGross as he lands at Andrews AFB on his return home from #Cuba http://t.co/3VI6DXCpLy
Judy Gross, wife of imprisoned U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, gives an interview in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Gross is in Havana to visit her jailed husband. The wife and lawyer of Alan Gross who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba said Wednesday they fear for his life even more after his mother's death from cancer last week. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Judy Gross, wife of imprisoned U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, lisitens during an interview in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Gross is in Havana to visit her jailed husband. The wife and lawyer of Alan Gross who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba said Wednesday they fear for his life even more after his mother's death from cancer last week. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
FILE - In this file handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross. Forty-four senators have written to Cuba's president to call for the release of a Maryland man imprisoned in Cuba for almost three years. The one-page letter released Tuesday is signed by 34 Democrats, nine Republicans and independent Joseph Lieberman. It says that the detention of Alan Gross is a major obstacle to improving relations between Cuba and the United States. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)
FILE - In this 2005 file handout photo provided by the Gross family, Alan and Judy Gross are seen in Jerusalem. A lawyer for Gross, a Maryland man imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years says his client's health is worsening and that country is withholding the results of medical tests performed on him there. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)
FILE - This two-picture combo handout file photos provided in June 2012 by Peter Kahn, the attorney of imprisoned American Alan Gross, shows Gross in 2009 and in 2012. Gross, a 63-year-old U.S. government subcontractor from Montgomery County, Md., has been in prison in Cuba since late 2009. An independent physician has reviewed medical records sent by Cuba and the doctor says Gross may have a cancerous growth on his shoulder, contradicting the Cuban government's stance that his health is normal. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Peter Kahn, File)
In this photo taken Monday Dec. 26, 2011 and provided to the Associated Press by Adela Dworin, American government contractor Alan Gross, center, poses for a photo with Cuban Jewish leaders Adela Dworin, right, and David Prinstein at the Finlay military hospital in Havana, Cuba, during a visit with Gross to celebrate the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. Gross, sentenced to 15 years in jail earlier this year, was accused of working for an USAID program aimed at bringing about regime change on the island. He was not included in a massive prisoner amnesty announced by President Raul Castro last week.(AP Photo)
Judy Gross, wife of Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba, right, takes part in a rally to support her husband, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011, outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as well as an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba Wednesday, declaring an end to America's "outdated approach" to the communist island in a historic shift that aims to bring an end to a half-century of Cold War enmity.

"Isolation has not worked," Obama said in remarks from the White House. "It's time for a new approach."

As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana. Obama and Castro spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Obama's announcement marked an abrupt use of executive power. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.

Wednesday's announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba's release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.

Obama said Gross' five-year imprisonment had been a "major obstacle" in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities. Tourist travel remains banned.

Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.

The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terror.

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