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U.S. senators visit Cuba, hope Congress will ease restrictions

Sunday, June 28, 2015 - 01:27

During a visit to Cuba, U.S. Senators say they are hopeful that Congress will support President Obama's policy shift towards Cuba. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Three visiting U.S. senators said on Saturday (June 27) they hoped Congress would support President Barack Obama's opening toward Cuba, including lifting a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the Communist-run island. Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Ben Cardin of Maryland joined Republican Dean Heller of Nevada on a trip to Cuba where they met First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and ordinary Cubans. "I wish we had a full embassy years ago. Some in the congress oppose opening it - I like to think they are very much in the minority. We must open an embassy, a full embassy. We have a wonderful ambassador here but he needs the ability to have the staff and the facilities necessary," Leahy told a news conference on Saturday. "Look at the United States, I like to think that we are a great country, our embassy should reflect that. Something that is open to everybody, students can come there, people of all ages can come there, they can learn about the United States, we can put the best face of the United States forward. We can't do that until we get a full embassy and I would hope that that would be very soon," he added. A number of Cuba initiatives are pending in the Senate, including a bill to remove the travel ban on Americans and a more ambitions bill to rescind the decades-old U.S. economic embargo. Obama, a Democrat, has called on Congress to act but the legislation is opposed by the Republican leadership in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Earlier this month, the House rejected a measure that would have relaxed travel restrictions. But the senators said there were better prospects for progress on Cuba legislation in their chamber. Republican senator Heller, one of a few Republican senators to side with Obama on Cuba, encouraged members of Congress to visit Cuba and engage with ordinary Cubans. He also said he was hopefully there would be progress before the end of Obama's term. "I don't know and I cannot determine whether or not by the end of his term -- we only have 16 to 18 months left of this term -- but the expansion of the embassy and the changes that must occur for travel I think are too things that can be done before the end of his term," he said. Currently, some Americans may travel to Cuba with official permission but general tourism is banned. Breaking decades of Cold War-era hostility, Obama and Castro announced plans last December to restore diplomatic ties that Washington severed in 1961, and to work toward normalizing overall relations. An announcement on reopening embassies in both capitals is expected soon.

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U.S. senators visit Cuba, hope Congress will ease restrictions

Sunday, June 28, 2015 - 01:27