Cuba Releases US Prisoner Alan Gross, Could Signal Thaw In US-Cuba Relations

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States is making its most significant shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in decades.

According to U.S. officials, the two countries will be starting talks about normalizing diplomatic relations.

The announcement comes amid a series of new confidence-building measures between the longtime foes. Those steps include the release of American Alan Gross, who has been jailed in Cuba for five years. As part of the secret negotiations to secure his release, the U.S. is freeing three Cubans who were jailed in Florida for spying.

Gross is on a U.S. government plane, headed home, after being released on humanitarian grounds at the request of the Obama administration. U.S. officials have considered his detention an impediment to improved relations with Cuba.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce the changes in policy toward Cuba at noon today.

Obama has taken some steps to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuba after Raul Castro took over as president in 2010 from his ailing brother. He has sought to ease travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family in Cuba, but has resisted calls to drop the embargo.

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