WASHINGTON • The United States and Cuba on Wednesday agreed on a historic deal to re-establish full diplomatic relations, which were severed 54 years ago in the heat of the Cold War.
Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro exchanged letters agreeing to unfreeze ties on July 20, when embassies in Washington and Havana can be reopened.
Mr Obama hailed the deal as a "historic step forward" that would end a failed and archaic US policy of isolating the still Communist-ruled island. He called on domestic critics to stop "clinging to a policy that was not working".
Mr Obama pressed Congress to end a throttling US trade embargo set up in 1962. "It's long past time for us to realise that this approach doesn't work," he said in a White House Rose Garden address.
"It hasn't worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba's future and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people."
Former US president Dwight Eisenhower shut the US embassy in Havana after a guerrilla insurgency brought Fidel Castro to power and placed Cuba firmly within the orbit of the Soviet Union.
The embassy closure foreshadowed conflagrations across the Straits of Florida that would define an era: from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban missile crisis.
Mr Raul Castro on Wednesday said he hoped to "develop respectful and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments", in his letter to Mr Obama.
On July 20, Mr Raul Castro will send Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to open the Cuban embassy in Washington. No date was set for opening the US embassy in Cuba, but Mr Obama announced that "later this summer, Secretary John Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more".
Both countries are represented by an "interests section" within the embassies of Switzerland.
Polls show a majority of Americans support Mr Obama's efforts to improve ties. But opponents could yet pose problems for further rapprochement.
Republican presidential candidates who have ties to Cuba, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have been outspoken in their opposition to the thaw.
Mr Obama and Raul Castro held a historic meeting in Panama in April - the first sit-down between leaders of the US and Cuba since 1956.