President Obama believes Congress will lift the embargo against Cuba — under the next president.
Obama made the admission ahead of a historic visit to the communist island nation, intended to cement his new policy of openness toward the United States’s former Cold War foe.
“My strong prediction is that sometime in the next president's administration, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, that the embargo in fact will be removed,” he said in an interview with CNN en Español that aired Monday.
The president has relied on his executive powers to establish new trade and travel links with Cuba, but it would take an act of Congress to fully lift the five-decade-old embargo, which bars large-scale U.S. business operations on and tourism to the island.
The president indicated that support for lifting the embargo has grown in Congress since Obama announced his detente with Cuban President Raúl Castro in 2014.
But many Republicans, and some Democrats who oppose Obama’s Cuba policy favor keeping the embargo in place, argue that lifting it would be too great of a reward to a government that continues to repress its citizens.
“Ultimately in order to bring down the entire embargo that is going require congressional action,” the president said. “There is bipartisan support to do so, but it is not yet at a critical mass.”
The president’s comments echo those made by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerUkrainians made their choice for freedom, but now need US help Week ahead in defense: Anticipation builds for State pick; Pentagon chief's last trip abroad Former Ford CEO possible candidate for secretary of State: report MORE (R-Tenn.), who said last month it’s “possible” the embargo could come down under Obama’s successor if Cuba improves its poor human-rights practices.
Obama acknowledged concerns, most vocally made by the Cuban government, that the embargo serves as a major stumbling block to fully normalized relations.
“It makes sense for us to be able to sell into Cuba, to do business with Cubans, to show our business practices and how we treat workers and how we approach issues of human rights, that that will help bring about the kinds of changes that are needed,” he said.
Responding to skeptics of his Cuba policy in Congress, Obama stressed he would meet with dissidents on the island, saying it was “part of the deal” for his two-day visit, which includes a meeting with Castro.
“During my visit I intend to meet with dissidents, critics of the Cuban government, just as I did when I was in Panama, and I had the opportunity to meet with activists from Cuba,” he said. “That was part of the deal for me to attend and have Raúl Castro there as well.”
The administration is expected to eliminate a number of trade and travel restrictions in the days leading up to Obama’s visit, which begins Sunday.
Major corporations such as AT&T, Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Marriott are seeking to complete deals to operate in Cuba. Commercial airlines have begun to apply to fly direct to the island, which would dramatically increase the number of Americans able to visit.