US, Cuba reach agreement to open embassies

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AP Source: US, Cuba to Announce Embassy Openings Wednesday

President Barack Obama is expected to announce the agreement Wednesday at the White House. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is scheduled to open later this month.

The U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the re-establishment of embassies following a surprise December announcement that secret talks had led to an agreement to restart diplomatic relations.

For Obama, ending the U.S. freeze with Cuba is central to his foreign policy legacy as he nears the end of his presidency. Obama has long touted the value of direct engagement with global foes and has argued that the U.S. embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.

Check out the pictures from Obama and Castro's meeting:

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US, Cuba reach agreement to open embassies
Workers at the US Department of State add the Cuban flag at to the display of flags inside the main entrance at 202 'C' Street at 4am local time (0800 GMT) in Washington, DC on July 20, 2015. The United States and Cuba formally resumed diplomatic relations on July 20, as the Cuban flag was raised at the US State Department in a historic gesture toward ending decades of hostility between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO / Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A workman at the US Department of State add the Cuban flag at to the display of flags inside the main entrance at 202 'C' Street at 4am local time (0800 GMT) in Washington, DC on July 20, 2015. The United States and Cuba formally resumed diplomatic relations on July 20, as the Cuban flag was raised at the US State Department in a historic gesture toward ending decades of hostility between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO / Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A man waves the US and Cuban flags as he walks in front of the new Cuban Embassy shortly before it's official ceremonial opening July 20, 2015, in Washington, DC. The United States and Cuba formally resumed diplomatic relations on July 20, as the Cuban flag was raised at the US State Department in a historic gesture toward ending decades of hostility between the Cold War foes. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama(R) speaks along side Vice President Joe Biden in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama announced plans to reopen the US Embassy in Havana in an effort to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cold War enemy Cuba. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Vice President Joe R. Biden listens while US President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House July 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama announced plans to reopen the US Embassy in Havana in an effort to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cold War enemy Cuba. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) speaks with US President Barack Obama (R) on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Cuba's President Raul Castro during a meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuba's President Raul Castro (L) gestures as he speaks with US President Barack Obama (R) on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks at a civil society forum in the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, at a hotel in Panama City on April 10, 2015. Obama told a forum of Latin American civil society members in Panama on Friday that the days of American meddling in the region were over. 'The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity -- those days are passed,' Obama said hours before the start of the 35-nation Summit of the Americas, where he is coming face-to-face with Cuban leader Raul Castro amid their diplomatic thaw. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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A senior Obama administration official confirmed the embassy planning. The official insisted on anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter ahead of the president.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Vienna for nuclear negotiations with Iran, is also expected to speak about the embassy openings. Kerry has said previously that he would travel to Cuba for an embassy opening.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday evening that it would meet with U.S. Interests Section chief Jeffrey DeLaurentis on Wednesday morning to receive a message from Obama about reopening embassies.

The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution. The U.S. spent decades trying to either actively overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including toughening the economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other's capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and do not enjoy the same status as embassies.

Check out some pics from Old Havana, Cuba:

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While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations. Among them: talks on human rights; demands for compensation for confiscated American properties in Havana and damages to Cuba from the embargo; and possible cooperation on law enforcement, including the touchy topic of U.S. fugitives sheltering in Havana.

Obama also wants Congress to repeal the economic embargo on Cuba, though he faces resistance from Republicans and some Democrats. Those opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba say Obama is prematurely rewarding a regime that engages in serious human rights abuses.

The president also will face strong opposition in Congress to spending any taxpayer dollars on building or refurbishing an embassy in Havana. Congress would have to approve any administration request to spend money on an embassy.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement that opening a U.S. embassy in Cuba "will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping."

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the opening of embassies was part of the administration's "common sense approach to Cuba." However, he called for Cuba to recognize that it is out of step with the international community on human rights.

"Arrests and detentions of dissidents must cease and genuine political pluralism is long overdue," Cardin said in a statement.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met in April during a regional summit, marking the first time U.S. and Cuban leaders have met in person since 1958.

For Obama, the embassy announcements come amid what the White House sees as one of the strongest stretches of his second term. He scored major legislative and legal victories last week, with Congress giving him fast-track authority for an Asia-Pacific free trade deal and the Supreme Court upholding a key provision of his health care law.

The court also ruled in favor of gay marriage nationwide, an outcome Obama supported.

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