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US and Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, presidents to make public addresses

Published:Wednesday | December 17, 2014 | 2:03 PM

WASHINGTON (AP):
The United States and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in US policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came amid a series of sudden confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a US intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the US Gross arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro were to separately address their nations around noon.

The two leaders spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the US and Cuba since 1961.

Wednesday's announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between US and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican.

US officials said Pope Francis was personally engaged in the process and sent separate letters to Obama and Castro this summer urging them to restart relations.

Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly ahead of Obama's remarks.

Gross, 65, arrived back in the US shortly before Obama was to address the nation. Gross was released after more than five years in prison.

He was accompanied by his wife, Judy, along with several US lawmakers.