Castro hails US-Cuba thaw, but says won't change pol system

Castro hails US-Cuba thaw, but says won't change pol system

Cuban President Raul Castro said he was ready to discuss any topic with Washington after the historic bilateral rapprochement, but warned not to expect political change.

And while the leader of the Americas' only communist nation hailed the agreement for removing of an "obstacle" in US-Cuba relations, he reiterated that "the most important thing, the end of the embargo" remained unresolved.

Castro yesterday spoke at the close of the twice-yearly meeting of the one-party National Assembly, which unanimously ratified the deal between Havana and Washington, in a session largely focused on the island's historic renewal of ties with Washington.

"The Cuban people cheer this correct decision of US President Barack Obama. It represents the removal of an obstacle in relations between our countries," he said.

"We reiterate our willingness for respectful and reciprocal dialogue concerning disagreements," Castro said, adding that Cuba "accepted dialogue... on any topic about all things here but also in the United States."

But he emphasized that his country was a "sovereign state" that would not bow to pressure to change its political or economic system.

"In the same way that we have never suggested the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours," Castro said.

The United States and Cuba made the breakthrough in their Cold War standoff Wednesday, launching measures to ease a five-decade US trade embargo as well as a prisoner exchange. First official talks are scheduled for January.

Castro repeated yesterday his stance that "the most important thing, the end of the economic, trade, and financial embargo against Cuba, still needs to be resolved."

However, most of the embargo is codified in US law, which can only be changed with congressional approval.

That will likely prove difficult, with a number of US lawmakers, led by Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, protesting Obama's shift in Cuba policy.

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