U.S. lawmakers meet with Cuban foreign minister
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers met with Cuba's foreign minister and laid flowers at a Havana memorial to slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King on Saturday during a visit aimed at improving relations between Washington and the communist-ruled island.
"The entire world is very optimistic about a shift in direction in terms of U.S. foreign policy throughout the world," U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, who headed a seven-member congressional delegation, told reporters in the Cuban capital.
"Personally I believe and many believe it's time to talk to Cuba," said Lee, who added that the delegation was in Cuba to find out what issues should be discussed between the two countries.
She did not disclose what they talked about with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, but said, "the discussions have been very well received."
"We've had open, honest dialogue and we look forward to continuing discussions up until we depart on Wednesday," she told reporters in a small park with a black stone memorial to King.
The delegation placed flowers at the memorial's base to mark the 41st anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
The delegation is the first from the United States since President Barack Obama took office in January. The U.S. Congress is preparing to consider bills lifting most restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.
Most U.S. citizens are barred from visiting the island 90 miles from Florida under a 47-year trade embargo imposed shortly after Fidel Castro took power and allied Cuba with the former Soviet Union.
ABOLISHING SOME RESTRICTIONS
A White House official confirmed on Friday a Wall Street Journal report that Obama would abolish limits on family travel and cash remittances between the United States and Cuba, but the official said the move was not a policy shift or imminent.
Obama promised during his presidential campaign to lift the restrictions, which were tightened by the Bush administration. The new U.S. leader has called for steps toward normalizing relations, but Vice President Joe Biden said a week ago that the United States would not lift the embargo.
Lee said the delegation had not brought any message from Obama. They met with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's parliament, after arriving in Havana on Friday.
U.S. Representative Mike Honda said Cuban officials have played it close to the vest in discussions so far, with much of the talk about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations.
"I'm sure they would like to say a lot of things, but what they've told us is history from their point of view, and the feeling that they want you to sense that," he said.
Lee said the delegation, which is all Democrat and mostly of African-Americans, had not been told yet whether they would meet with President Raul Castro.
Obama is due to meet with Latin American leaders later this month in Trinidad and Tobago. His tone on Cuba, different from the tough policies under Bush, has sparked hopes for change on both sides of the Florida Straits and in Latin America.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham)
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