Cuban and American flags straightened during re-opening ceremony Cuban embassy in Washingt
Cuban and American flags straightened during re-opening ceremony Cuban embassy in Washingt Reuters

The United States and Cuba officially re-launched diplomatic ties on Monday with the opening of a Cuban embassy in Washington, AFP reported.

Some seven months after President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro agreed to restore ties snapped in 1961 during the Cold War, Havana and Washington restored diplomatic relations and reopened full embassies in the two capitals.

At the same time, diplomats from both countries said there were many difficulties to overcome towards fully normalizing ties.

"This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that still separate our governments," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced he will visit Havana on August 14, becoming the first top American diplomat to visit the Cuban capital since 1945.

"But it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement," Kerry insisted at a packed press conference, according to AFP.

He was speaking after welcoming Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who became the first top Cuban diplomat to set foot inside the State Department since 1958.

Rodriguez swiftly demanded an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba and the return of territory used as an American military base in southern Guantanamo Bay.

"Totally lifting the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages, are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations," Rodriguez said.

Kerry said Obama's administration wants to lift the economic embargo imposed in 1962, and that he hoped it would be lifted "at the appropriate time."

At the same time he stressed that "at this time, there is no intention to alter the existing lease treaty" on Guantanamo Bay, also home to the military prison which Obama has vowed to close.

The opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington is the latest part in the process of normalizing ties.

The United States has already officially dropped Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the country to have better access to American banking facilities and aid, and meaning a ban on arms exports and sales is also lifted.

In addition, Washington recently authorized commercial ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century. 

Some lawmakers, however, have rejected the normalization of relations with Cuba, one of them being Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who described the move as a “mistake” after it was announced.

"Look at Vietnam," he said. "We normalized relations with them and they are a Communist regime that still represses people. Sometimes engagement works, sometimes it doesn't."