Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Saturday, 3 January 2009

Cuba offers direct talks with US

Cuban President Raul Castro. Photo: 1 January 2009
Raul Castro said Cuba was not "desperate" to hold talks with the US

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is ready to hold direct talks with US President-elect Barack Obama, but played down any quick breakthrough.

Mr Castro described Mr Obama as an "honest man", but said his election had given rise to "excessive hopes".

He was speaking a day after Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its revolution.

Mr Obama has indicated he will ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba but maintain the 46-year US trade embargo on the island.

Speaking on state TV on Friday, President Castro repeated his previous assertions that Havana was ready for direct talks with the US "without intermediaries, directly".

"But we are in no rush, we are not desperate," he stressed.

Mr Castro said Mr Obama, who is due to take office on 20 January, could "do a great deal, could take positive steps".

"A president is coming in who has raised a lot of expectations in many parts of the world, hopes that are too high, I think," he added.

Muted celebrations

On Thursday, people across Cuba celebrated the anniversary of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Barack Obama
Mr Obama has said he wants to meet Cuban leaders

Speaking from the same balcony where his older brother, Fidel, declared victory on 1 January 1959, President Castro predicted the revolution would survive another 50 years.

The festivities were muted as Cuba struggles with big economic challenges and the aftermath of three hurricanes.

The frail health of Fidel Castro also dampened the mood of celebrations, says the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana.

The 82-year-old has not been seen in public since undergoing major surgery almost 18 months ago.

Reacting to the anniversary, a White House spokesman said the US continued to seek freedom for the Cuban people.

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