The U.S. has shared several lists of political prisoners with Cuban authorities in the past, President Obama said in an interview Monday.
The comment came after Cuban President Raúl Castro told reporters if he is given a list of political prisoners, “they will be released before tonight ends.”
But Obama said he hasn’t given Castro a list since his most recent request.
“Well, the truth of the matter is we have given them lists in the past, and they have responded intermittently to our engagement," Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
Earlier Monday, Obama and American journalists pressed Castro over political dissidents regularly jailed by his government during an extraordinary press conference in Havana.
The president called it an example of his strategy of engaging with the Cuban government to nudge it toward adopting political reforms.
"And this, I think, is an example of why it was my belief that this would be a more successful mechanism for us to advance the values that we care about than an embargo and silence and no communications,” he said.
Obama is on a two-day visit to Cuba in an effort to make progress on normalizing relations with the former Cold War foe.
The Obama administration has made progress on chipping away at the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, allowing more trade and travel to the communist country.
But critics of Obama’s policy have dismissed those steps as a reward to the Castro government, which has done little to provide freedom of speech or political rights to its citizens.
On Sunday, Cuban authorities rounded up more than two dozen dissidents who participated in a protest in Havana just hours before Obama’s arrival there. The president was set to meet with political opponents of Castro on Tuesday.
Castro denied that Cuba takes political prisoners and made it clear his definition of human rights differs from Obama's.
“We defend human rights," he said. "Actually, we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and insure the right to healthcare, education, Social Security with provision and development, equal pay and the rights of children."