President Barack Obama speaks with Cuban President Raúl Castro in the Oval Office on Friday.
Pete Souza/White House
President Barack Obama speaks with Cuban President Raúl Castro in the Oval Office on Friday.

Story highlights

The conversation came one day before Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Cuba before heading to the United States

Obama and Castro also discussed the importance of reopening embassies in Washington and Havana

Washington CNN —  

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro spoke on the phone Friday to discuss the process of normalizing relations between the two countries.

The conversation came one day before Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Cuba before heading to the United States, where he will meet with Obama. According to the White House, the two leaders commended the Pope for his role in helping advance relations between the countries, which had been at odds for more than 50 years.

Obama and Castro also discussed the importance of reopening embassies in Washington and Havana, as well as recognized that they will continue to have differences as they move forward, which they intend to address “candidly.”

Earlier Friday, the departments of Treasury and Commerce announced revisions to existing Cuban sanctions, in what is the third set of regulatory changes since the President announced that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in December. While tourists will still not be allowed to travel to Cuba, U.S. businesses will be able to establish offices in Cuba and hire Cuban citizens. Americans will also be able to open Cuban bank accounts.

The White House has repeatedly defended the decision to reopen communication with the communist country amid cries of human rights violations, saying that more than five decades of isolationist policy yielded no results and it is time to engage the Cuban government and people.

“The United States remains committed to our enduring objective of promoting a more prosperous Cuba, that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its people,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated Friday during the daily briefing.

The last time the two leaders spoke was in April, when they shook hands at a dinner for Latin American leaders in Panama City during the Summit of the Americas.