A year after moving to normalize relations with Cuba, President Obama said he is "very much interested" in traveling to the country, but added, "I think the conditions have to be right."
"What I've said to the Cuban government is if, in fact, I with confidence can say that we're seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I'd love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress. If we're going backwards then there's not much reason for me to be there; I'm not interested in just validating the status quo," Mr. Obama told Yahoo News' Olivier Knox in an interview.
The president added that he hopes sometime in the next year - the final year he'll be in office - will be the right time to "shine a light on progress that's been made," and possibly to "nudge the Cuban government in a new direction."
He liked a potential visit to Cuba to his trip to Myanmar last fall. Although the country was still emerging from decades of repressive governance, he used the trip to call for more democratic reforms and even pressed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out against discrimination toward Rohingya Muslims.
"When I got there it kind of gave that extra lift to undercurrents, changes that were already taking place and I'd like to see something similar happen in Cuba," he said. "I've found that a lot of times when I go on a visit not only is there a fresh coat of paint on all the buildings along my route, but metaphorically I think there's an interest on the part of the government to spruce things up."
The president has used his executive powers to restore many aspects of diplomatic relations with Cuba and sent Secretary of State John Kerry to the ceremony reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana. But Congress still holds the keys to a full restoration of ties: Only they can lift the longstanding trade embargo. There is still deep opposition to restoring relations with Cuba, especially among the several Cuban-American lawmakers in the House and Senate.