Pope Francis was vital in bringing the United States and Cuba back to the negotiating table, helping lead to Wednesday's historic announcement that relations would be normalized, said President Barack Obama in an address from the White House.
Obama says the Pope sent a letter to him and to Cuban President Raul Castro this summer that gave momentum to normalizing relations, BuzzFeed
reports, citing statements made by a senior White House official.
At the same time Obama was delivering his address, Castro was delivering his own address in Cuba, also crediting the Pontiff for his influence in brokering the agreement, CNN reported just after Obama's address.
The letter was especially personal to both leaders and urged them to come together. It led to a phone call between Obama and Castro that resulted in the landmark announcement.
The Pope congratulated the two leaders "for the historic decision taken by the governments," and said in a statement that the Vatican was ready to support the strengthening of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
The senior WH official told BuzzFeed that the Vatican was the only government involved in the meetings between the United States and Cuba, and Vatican officials were at the meetings, most of which were held in Canada.
"The support of Pope Francis, the support of the Vatican was important to us given the esteem with which both the American and Cuban people hold the Catholic Church, and, in particular, Pope Francis who, as you know, has a substantial history in Latin America — the first pope to be selected from Latin America," a White House official also told The Hill
The final deal came at the Vatican and was facilitated by Pope Francis.
In its statement, the Vatican confirmed that its diplomats facilitated talks between the two countries, "resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties."
"The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history," the statement said.
"The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens," it said.
Pope Francis had raised the issue repeatedly when the two presidents met with him in March.
"Cuba was a topic of discussion that got as much attention as anything else the two of them discussed," the White House official told BuzzFeed.
Administration officials said Obama had already ordered the conversations with Havana before meeting with the Pope, as the president does not believe the decades-long embargo has worked.
Further, normalization will allow the White House to push for human rights improvements in the poverty-stricken Cuba, the official said.
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