WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The conversation between Obama and Castro took place ahead of Pope Francis’s upcoming visits to Cuba and the United States.
"The leaders discussed steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation, even as we will continue to have differences on important issues and will address those differences candidly," the release read.
"The two Presidents commended the role that Pope Francis has played in advancing relations between our countries."
They also noted the cooperation between US and Cuban medical professionals during the US Naval Ship Comfort’s visit to Haiti this week, according to the White House.
Earlier on Friday, the US Treasury and Commerce Departments announced new measures to enhance opportunities for US travel and business in Cuba as part of President Barack Obama’s policy of reengagement with Havana.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry recognized the new measures as new stage in Havana’s relations with Washington, but stressed in a Friday statement that Cuban leader Raul Castro was calling for more steps in this direction.
"With regard to the regulations announced on September 18 by the Department of Commerce and the Treasury, which complement those which came into force as of January 16, President Raúl Castro emphasized the need to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade policy for the benefit of both peoples," the ministry said.
On Friday, Washington allowed travel between the United States and Cuba by ship, valid for authorized travelers, without stopping in third countries,.
The Obama administration began normalizing relations between the two countries in December 2014. In July, the United States resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba as the two countries reopened embassies in their respective capitals after five decades of hostilities.
Despite normalization of relations between Washington and Havana, the United States continues to hold a congressionally mandated embargo on Cuba. In order to lift the trade blockade, specific legislation needs to be passed by the US Congress.