Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 00:12 UK

US politicians meet 'fit' Castro

Fidel Castro (archive picture)
Fidel Castro says his country is not afraid of talking to the US

Members of the US Congress have held a rare meeting with the Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, describing him as very engaging and energetic.

The event was his first known meeting with US officials since he underwent emergency intestinal surgery in 2006.

Mr Castro has not been seen in public since he was taken ill, and ceded power to his brother Raul last year.

Analysts say the meeting indicates an increased willingness on the part of Cuba and the US to resolve tensions.

The three members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the 82-year-old revolutionary leader asked how Cuba could help President Barack Obama normalise relations between the two countries.

"Of course, he has been ill," said the delegation's leader, Congresswoman Barbara Lee. "But I think we will agree that he was very healthy, very energetic, very clear thinking."

Congresswoman Laura Richardson added: "He looked directly into our eyes, quite aware of what was happening, and said to us 'How can we help President Obama?'"

Changing times

A seven-strong team of congressional Democrats is currently in Cuba, looking into ways to improve US-Cuban relations, but only three of them attended the meeting with Mr Castro.

The delegation met Raul Castro on Monday.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the visit is a sign of the changing times in Washington and in Havana.

President Obama is expected to announce soon that he is easing restrictions imposed in 2004 by George W Bush on travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans.

Last week, a bill was introduced to Congress which would allow unrestricted travel to Cuba for all Americans.

Meanwhile, in an article published on Sunday, Fidel Castro said his country was not afraid to talk to the US.

But no-one is yet expecting the lifting of America's 50-year-old trade embargo on Cuba, our correspondent adds.

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