April 6, 2009 / 5:18 AM / 10 years ago

Fidel Castro says Cuba not afraid to talk to U.S.

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Sunday that Cuba does not fear dialogue with the United States and praised U.S. Senator Richard Lugar for calling for a new U.S. policy of engagement with the communist-led island.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is seen in Havana in this picture taken January 21, 2009 and released January 23, 2009. REUTERS/Argentine Presidency/Handout

Castro, in a column published on the Internet, said Lugar has “his feet on the ground” and does not fear that he will be called “soft or pro-socialist” in making the argument that “the measures of the United States against Cuba, throughout almost half a century, constitute a total failure.”

“It is not necessary to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We don’t fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some fools think,” wrote the 82-year-old Castro, who resigned as president when he became ill but still has clout on the island he ran for 49 years.

Dialogue, Castro said, “is the only way of procuring friendship and peace between peoples.”

Lugar, the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged President Barack Obama last week to “recast a policy that has not only failed to promote human rights and democracy, but also undermines our broader security and political interests.”

He called for creation of a special envoy to begin direct talks with Cuba on issues of mutual concern.

Castro’s column comes amid signs that change may be afoot between Cuba and the United States, which are only 90 miles apart but have no official diplomatic relations.

A U.S. congressional delegation is in Cuba talking with officials about ways to improve relations.

They arrived as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate prepare to consider bills that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba, which has been largely banned by a U.S. trade embargo imposed on the island since 1962.

According to media reports, Obama will soon make good on a campaign promised to remove limits on family travel and remittances between the United States and Cuba. He is scheduled to go to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17.

While Obama has stopped short of calling for an end to the embargo, both he and Cuban President Raul Castro, who replaced brother Fidel, have indicated a willingness for talks.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Philip Barbara

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