The United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to reopen embassies in each other's capitals, a major step towards normalizing relations after more than 50 years of severed ties between the two governments.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday to formally announce an agreement for the embassies to open their doors on July 20, US President Barack Obama said the Cuban embassy would allow for the country to engage more broadly across the island, and that more personnel will be staffed at the mission.
"A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the US would once again raise our flag, the stars and stripes, over the embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like," he said.
Video released Wednesday shows US foreign officials, including the head of the country's mission in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, at the Cuban Foreign Ministry delivering a letter written by Obama formally announcing the agreement.
Following Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba, the US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. In line with these actions, President Dwight D. Eisenhower placed an economic embargo on Cuba. Currently, the countries operate diplomatic missions in each other's capitals that are under the protection of Sweden.
In December, Obama announced a "new chapter" in relations with Cuba, with the countries agreeing to work towards normalizing diplomatic ties, while also establishing embassies in their respective capitals.
The historic accord between the US and Cuba was hammered out by Obama and his counterpart in Cuba, Raul Castro, following 50 years of severed ties between the countries. After the move was announced, revolutionary leader and longtime former Cuban president Fidel Castro said the decision made by his younger brother, who took control in 2006, was legitimate.
In May, the US took another major step towards normalizing relations when it removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Despite the progress, Obama will still need Congressional approval to remove the economic embargo and to use taxpayer money for embassy-related costs in Havana. Those opposed to restoring ties with Cuba include both Republicans and Democrats, who cite human rights violations in the country to support their opinions.
This was acknowledged Wednesday by Obama, who said that there are people who want to "double down" on the current policy of isolation, but that it is long past time to realize that the policy hasn't worked. Obama asked Congress to listen to the Cuban and American people when making these decisions.
"No one expects Cuba to transform overnight, but I believe engagement through our embassy is the best way to support democracy and human rights," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.