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Obama really wants to go to Cuba, but only if the conditions are right

Olivier Knox
·Chief Washington Correspondent
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This story is part of a weeklong Yahoo series marking one year since the opening of relations between the United States and Cuba.

President Obama promised in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he “very much” hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can meet with pro-democracy dissidents there.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

Speaking in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama strongly hinted that he would make a decision “over the next several months.”

The president said he hopes that “sometime next year” he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe [go] there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

White House aides privately describe an Obama visit – under the right circumstances – as the logical culmination of the new policy direction that he announced almost exactly one year ago.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stand together in front of members of the media before a bilateral meeting in September 2015, at the United Nations headquarters. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama and Raúl Castro stunned the world by disclosing that they had held secret negotiations and were prepared to usher in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, starting with the resumption of full diplomatic ties. Embassies reopened in Havana and Washington, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the two sides took steps to increase travel and business opportunities.

Obama has undertaken many changes using his executive powers, and indicated in the interview that he would continue looking at ways to do so in 2016. But Obama needs Congress to roll back the centerpiece of America’s Cold War-era pressure on Cuba and lift the trade embargo.

Watch the full interview:

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