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Saturday, March 21, 1998 Published at 11:26 GMT

World: Americas

US confirms easing of Cuba sanctions

Madeleine Albright announcing the easing of the sanctions

The White House has confirmed that the United States is to ease American sanctions against Cuba.

Albright: "No change in the policy towards Cuban government..."
The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said Washington has decided to allow the resumption of direct humanitarian charter flights between the two countries, and to permit Cuban exiles in the US to send money to their families. Restrictions on the sale of medical supplies will also be eased.

But Mrs Albright said the long standing trade embargo against Cuba will remain in place.

"These measures do not reflect a change in policy towards the Cuban government. That policy has been and remains to seek a peaceful transition to democracy," she said.

Castro and Vatican welcome the move

Earlier, President Fidel Castro welcomed reports of the new policy, saying it would help improve relations between the two countries.

Also the Vatican has welcomed the news. In an interview with the BBC, Father Pedro Freites, said the Pope and the Church are satisfied and full of joy at the reports. Father Freitas said he believed Cuba's decision to free more than 300 prisoners, some of them political dissidents, following the Pope's visit to Cuba in January has helped the situation.

The White House officials have confirmed that the move is in part, a response to the Pope's visit.

[ image: Senator Jesse Helms: chief architect of anti Castro 'Helms-Burton' legislation]
Senator Jesse Helms: chief architect of anti Castro 'Helms-Burton' legislation
The sanctions being lifted were imposed two years ago after Cuba shot down two American light aircraft killing four people.

Mrs Albright will now work with the Congress to look at ways to allow more food to go from the United States to Cuba.

Some Congressional conservatives, however, have warned that they will not accept any weakening of the trade embargo until there is clear evidence that President Castro is willing to accept reform.

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