September 18, 2015 / 9:16 PM / 4 years ago

Castro, Obama speak about pope's visit, new U.S. trade rules

A photograph of Cuba's President Raul Castro hangs next to samples of basic products like rice, sugar and oil that are on sale at a subsidised state store, or "bodega", where Cubans can buy with a ration book they receive annually from the government in Havana September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

HAVANA (Reuters) - President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Friday about Pope Francis’ visit to both countries starting on Saturday and new regulations relaxing Washington’s trade embargo on the island, Cuba’s government said.

It said the two leaders also talked about diplomatic relations that were restored in July between the former Cold War enemies.

In a separate statement, the White House added that they “discussed steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation” and that the countries “will continue to have differences on important issues and will address those differences candidly.”

The Cuban government said they spoke as well about the United Nations General Assembly where both leaders were scheduled to speak on Sept. 28.

“President Raul Castro stressed the need to deepen the reach (of new regulations) and to eliminate definitively the blockade policy, for the benefit of both countries,” the statement said, referring to new U.S. rules on Friday to further ease trade, travel and investment restrictions.

“They also spoke about the imminent visit of His Holiness Pope Francisco to Cuba and the United States, recognizing his contribution to the start a new stage in bilateral relations.”

The pope played a crucial role in facilitating secret talks between Cuba and the United States, including letters he sent to both Castro and Obama in 2014, that led to this year’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Toni Reinhold, Grant McCool

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