Three visiting U.S. senators said on Saturday they hoped Congress would support President Barack Obama's opening toward Cuba, including lifting a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the Communist-run island.
Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Ben Cardin of Maryland joined Republican Dean Heller of Nevada on a trip to Cuba where they met First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and ordinary Cubans.
A number of Cuba initiatives are pending in the Senate, including a bill to remove the travel ban on Americans and a more ambitions bill to rescind the decades-old U.S. economic embargo.
Obama, a Democrat, has called on Congress to act but the legislation is opposed by the Republican leadership in control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Earlier this month, the House rejected a measure that would have relaxed travel restrictions. But the senators said there were better prospects for progress on Cuba legislation in their chamber.
"We think that can be achieved this year and we can make additional progress next year," Cardin told a news conference. "We're optimistic this path that President Obama and President (Raul) Castro started will be continued."
Heller, one of a few Republican senators to side with Obama on Cuba, encouraged members of Congress to visit Cuba and engage with ordinary Cubans. "I think the Senate can move the House, but the Senate's going to have to act first," Heller told Reuters after the news conference.
Currently, some Americans may travel to Cuba with official permission but general tourism is banned.
Breaking decades of Cold War-era hostility, Obama and Castro announced plans last December to restore diplomatic ties that Washington severed in 1961, and to work toward normalizing overall relations. An announcement on reopening embassies in both capitals is expected soon.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frances Kerry)