US President Obama to visit Cuba next month

US President Barack Obama to visit Cuba in historic step towards normalisation of relations between two Cold War rivals

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One upon departure from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on February 10, 2016.

US President Barack Obama is preparing to visit Cuba as soon as March to become the first sitting US president to set foot on the island in nearly nine decades, senior US officials said on Wednesday.

Obama said in December that he would consider visiting Cuba as part of an opening to Havana that saw the two countries restore diplomatic ties and take steps toward expanded commercial relations.

"The president has said he would like to go if the conditions are right," a US official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the trip has not been officially announced yet.

The last sitting US president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

Obama said in an interview in December with Yahoo News that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016 but only if enough progress had been made in bilateral relations and he was able to meet with political dissidents as part of an effort to "nudge the Cuban government in a new direction."

In December 2014, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shocked the world by announcing the former adversaries would normalise relations after a 54-year break.

In April 2015, Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of an Americas summit in Panama in the  first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the two countries after more than half a century.

US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands during a meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015.

In May 2015, US removed Cuba from its state sponsors of terrorism list in one of the major steps toward normalisation between the two countries.

In last summer, the two Cold War rivals reopened their respective embassies in Washington and Havana after more than 50 years of hostilities.

So far, the Republican majority in Congress has defied Obama's call to rescind US embargoes on Cuba, which is one of the most important obstacles before full normalisation of relations.

The White House plans to announce the visit on Thursday. The Cuba stop will be part of a broader trip to Latin America.

TRTWorld and agencies