Washington should do more to improve its relationship with Havana, which in turn needs to show flexibility, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on Friday during a visit to communist Cuba.
Richardson, formerly a US lawmaker and diplomat who has been a frequent special envoy in diplomatic crises, met with officials including National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon during the five-day trip.
The US governor, who is half Mexican, grew up partly in Mexico City and speaks Spanish, said he would pass along his recommendations to the Barack Obama administration.
"Normalizing relations is going to take time, it is a complicated thing and there are a lot of issues to address. After 50 years (of strained ties) you cannot change everything in a year.
"It will take time, but we have to do it," Richardson, 61, told reporters at a briefing at the close of his visit. Though formally on a trade mission as governor, Richardson -- who met with Fidel Castro more than a decade ago -- did not meet with President Raul Castro, 78, or Communist Party chief Fidel Castro, 83. But he did meet with Alarcon and Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez.
"I am going to give a report to the Obama administration with my recommendations," Richardson said.
"Now there is a really positive atmosphere, better than I have seen in years; to improve relations both sides have to take concrete steps... On the US side, more attention has to be paid to the Cuba problem and to Latin America," Richardson said.
He said he encouraged Havana to show greater flexibility in its policies on "reciprocal matters especially in the humanitarian area."
Richardson said he was pleased with his contacts here and that he had received a verbal greeting from Fidel Castro -- who left power three years ago after taking seriously ill -- through another official.
In 1996 Richardson visited Cuba as a special envoy of then president Bill Clinton and helped secure the release of some prisoners.
But the US-Cuban bilateral relationship hit new lows under the George W. Bush presidency. Cuba -- the Americas' only one-party communist regime -- and the United States do not have full diplomatic relations.
Richardson said that before big-ticket items such as ending the US economic embargo on Cuba, having Cuba release political prisoners, or having the United States give back the Guantanamo Bay base it holds against Havana's will, smaller steps were necessary first, such as on humanitarian issues.
Obama has said he would be prepared to make changes in US-Cuban relations and so far has allowed Cuban-Americans to travel home more often and ended limits on the amount of money they send home.
He also annoyed Cuba by urging Havana to release political prisoners. Richardson said he would encourage an end to travel restrictions on US nationals wishing to travel to Cuba.