The White House today said it "wouldn't rule out a visit from President Raul Castro" to Washington, a day after President Obama announced the U.S. and Cuba would begin talks to normalize relations and open embassies following more than five decades of hostility.
"The president has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States," White House spokesman John Earnest said, adding by meeting such leaders the U.S. can have more influence on issues such as human rights.
Separately, Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said relations with Cuba weren't directly related to the Communist Party-run country's human rights record, though human rights remain part of the agenda.
"I do not necessarily think that we're talking about direct human rights conditionality in the restoration of diplomatic relations part," she said. "That is a legal process, if you will, or a diplomatic process that will be fairly mechanical."
Even if relations are normalized, the longstanding U.S. embargo on Cuba can only be removed by congressional approval, something that is unlikely to happen at the present time given the vocal opposition to Obama's announcement on Wednesday.
But today, the move had some backing.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told The Tom Roten Morning Show on News Radio 800 in Huntington, W.Va., that he thought starting trade with Cuba is "probably a good idea."
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," he said. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship."
Separately, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who many expect to run for president in 2016, also supported Obama's decision.
"Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime's grip on power," she said.
The New York Times reported today that when Clinton was preparing to leave the State Department, she wrote a memo to Obama asking him to reconsider the trade embargo against Cuba.