He qualified President Obama's relaxation of travel regulations to permit family visits to Cuba as "positive" but of "minimum reach," stressing that Obama had left the blockade, as the embargo is referred to by Cuba, intact and "nothing justifies that policy".
The Cuban leader, who officially took over from his older brother Fidel in February 2008, was addressing the Foreign Ministers of the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement meeting opening in Havana, on Wednesday. Castro expressed thanks for supporting calls for an end to the U.S. economic and trade embargo against the island.
Cuba, he said, has never placed sanctions on the United States, For example, he pointed out, Havana does not interfere with U.S. businessmen selling goods to the island.
"It's not Cuba," Castro stressed, "that has to make gestures. We have reiterated that we are willing to talk about everything with the United States Government on an equal basis but not to negotiate our sovereignty, our political system, or our internal affairs."
Further clarifying what he meant, the Cuban President said, he was ready "to discuss everything [with the U.S.], but not just about us but also about them in equal conditions."
Coinciding with the White House's announcement earlier this month that it was removing the restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to visit relatives and the limits on financial aid they could send home, President Castro said while attending a meeting in Venezuela, he was ready to talk about everything, "human rights, political prisoners, democracy." Although he added that the discussion would include the United States record in those fields, only the first part of his statement was reported and widely taken to mean that Cuba was ready to make concessions.
A few days later, in an on-line essay, former Cuban President Fidel Castro threw cold water on what appeared to be new momentum in the search for better bilateral relations saying Raul Castro's remarks had been misinterpreted and that instead of waiting for Cuba to make changes, the U.S. should lift the embargo. That's the position reiterated today by his brother Raul, who has been running the country since the end of July 2006 when the elder Castro fell victim to a severe intestinal problem.