On Monday, Cuban president Raul Castro met with seven visiting members of the Congressional Black Caucus, his first face-to-face discussions with US leaders since he became Cuba's president last year.
State television showed images of Castro, who holds the rank of four-star army general, wearing a business suit instead of his trademark olive-green fatigues and sitting down with Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, and other members of the American delegation behind closed doors.
An official communique read on the air noted that the US representatives had held meetings in recent days with the head of the Cuban parliament and the country's foreign minister, but provided no details of the meeting with Castro.
The lawmakers are in Havana to talk about improving US-Cuba relations amid speculation that Washington is ready to loosen some facets of its 47-year-old trade embargo.
The meeting came as Fidel Castro said Cuba is not afraid to talk directly to the US and that the communist government does not thrive on confrontation as its detractors have long claimed.
In a column published in state-controlled newspapers earlier Monday, the 82-year-old former president also praised US Sen. Richard Lugar, saying the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "is walking on solid ground" with a proposal to appoint a special envoy to reshape US.Cuba relations.
Fidel Castro wrote that "those capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana, use an irrefutable argument: The measures of the United States against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure."
Though they share a strong and mutual distrust of Washington, both Castro brothers have said for decades that they would be willing to talk personally with US leaders. Fidel repeated Cuba's desire for dialogue in the column, saying direct negotiation "is the only way to secure friendship and peace among peoples." Currently, the countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.
Lawmakers in both houses of the US Congress have proposed a measure that would prohibit the president from barring Americans from traveling to Cuba except in extreme cases, effectively lifting a travel ban that is a key component of the embargo.
Rep. Lee has said that many of the representatives, who arrived in Cuba on Friday and are scheduled to leave today, support the travel legislation.
Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina said Monday, "wouldn't it be so wonderful if we struck a dialogue and found the things that were mutually advantageous and mutually of interest to our two countries and stopped the historical divisions that have separated us (though we are) so close geographically?" (info from The Wall Strreet Journal)