R. Castro: Ready to talk to U.S.

Posted: July 27, 2012

HAVANA - Cuban President Raul Castro said Thursday that his government is willing to mend fences with bitter Cold War foe the United States and sit down to discuss anything, as long as it is a conversation between equals.

At the end of a Revolution Day ceremony marking the 59th anniversary of a failed uprising against a military barracks, Castro grabbed the microphone for apparently impromptu remarks.

He echoed previous statements that no topic is off-limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights on the island, as long as it is a conversation between equals.

"Any day they want, the table is set. This has already been said through diplomatic channels," Castro said. "If they want to talk, we will talk."

Washington would have to be prepared to hear Cuba's own complaints about the treatment of those issues in the United States and its European allies, he added.

"We are nobody's colony, nobody's puppet," Castro said.

Washington and Havana have not had diplomatic relations for five decades, and the 50-year-old U.S. embargo outlaws nearly all trade and travel to the island.

Later Thursday, Mike Hammer, assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. State Department, said that before there can be meaningful engagement, Cuba must institute democratic reforms, improve human rights and release Alan Gross, a Maryland native serving 15 years for bringing satellite and other communications equipment into Cuba illegally while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program.

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