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Cuba's Raul Castro meets U.S. officials

HAVANA (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional delegation met on Monday with Cuban President Raul Castro in his first talks with U.S. officials since taking office last year -- a sign that U.S.-Cuban relations may be thawing.

Cuba's President Raul Castro listens to his Dominican Republic counterpart Leonel Fernandez during a meeting at Havana's Revolution Palace March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Castro was host to six black Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives who came to Cuba last week to explore ways of normalizing relations between the two countries, which have been at odds for five decades.

The television report showed Castro, attired in a business suit, sitting down with the delegation, but gave no details of what was discussed.

Delegation leader U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee has said the group did not carry a message from President Barack Obama but had come only to “listen and talk” with the Cubans.

Castro succeeded his ailing older brother Fidel Castro as president in February 2008.

Fidel Castro on Sunday wrote a column in which he said Cuba did not fear dialogue with the United States and on Monday wrote another recounting the visit of what he described as “an important political delegation.”

There was no word that he had met with the group, but he wrote that one member had said “it was necessary to use this moment in which there is a black president in the White House and a current of opinion favorable to normalization of relations” between the two countries.

Hopes that U.S.-Cuba relations would improve have risen since Obama took office in January after promising to ease the 47-year U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island and seek talks with Cuban leaders.

News reports have said Obama will shortly lift restrictions on family travel and remittances between Cuba and the United States, perhaps before the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17.

Bills are pending in the House and Senate that would eliminate a ban on Americans visiting Cuba.

Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Jeff Franks and Bill Trott