Images from a historic moment in US-Cuban relations

  • American aid worker Alan Gross (3rd R) disembarks with his wife Judy (4th L) from a U.S. government plane as he arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland outside Washington, D.C., on Dec. 17, 2014, in this photo tweeted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
  • American aid worker Alan Gross (R) speaks with his wife Judy shortly before leaving Havana on Dec. 17, 2014 in this photo tweeted by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). 
  • Alan Gross embraces Tim Rieser (C, back to camera), a member of Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, on the tarmac as he disembarks from a U.S. government plane with wife Judy (L) at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland outside Washington, D.C. on Dec. 17, 2014, in this photo courtesy of Jill Zuckman.
  • This photo provided by Sen. Patrick Leahy shows Alan Gross and his wife Judy in flight en route from Cuba to Andrews Air Force Vase, Md., Dec. 17, 2014. 
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) embraces Alan Gross at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland outside Washington on Dec. 17, 2014, in this photo courtesy of Jill Zuckman. Kerry, who worked with his Cuban counterpart and Vatican officials to secure the release of Gross, was able to welcome him home and “express his overwhelming happiness that Alan Gross is now free and reunited with his family on American soil,” the department said in a statement.
  • American aid worker Alan Gross pauses while speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 17, 2014.
  • President Barack Obama talks with President Raúl Castro of Cuba from the Oval Office, Dec. 16, 2014.
  • National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice hugs Ricardo Zuniga, National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, following President Barack Obama’s call with President Raúl Castro of Cuba, in the Oval Office, Dec. 16, 2014. 
  • Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, left, confers with Ricardo Zuniga, National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, during President Barack Obama’s phone call with President Raúl Castro of Cuba, in the Oval Office, Dec. 16, 2014.
  • President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, convenes a National Security Council meeting on Cuba in the Situation Room of the White House, Nov. 6, 2014.

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Updated

After more than half a century of isolation, President Obama is dramatically shifting U.S. policy toward Cuba in a move that will end the Cold War-era conflict between the two countries.

America and Cuba announced on Wednesday that the two countries will immediately start discussions to normalize diplomatic relations, while the U.S. is easing restrictions on travel and trade. The change came after the Cuban government released Alan Gross, an American contractor who had been held in captivity for five years. Gross arrived back on American soil shortly before Obama addressed the nation.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” Obama said Wednesday afternoon. “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was working to provide internet connectivity to Cuba’s small Jewish population when he was imprisoned on espionage charges in 2009. His imprisonment was a key sticking point in relations with Cuba, which Obama came in to office hoping to ease tensions.

While the full U.S. embargo cannot be lifted without Congress, the administrative action is expected to be sweeping. And Obama said he looked forward to “engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

In a televised address in Cuba, Castro urged the U.S. to go further and lift the embargo.

“We have agreed to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations,” Castro said. “This does not mean that the main aspects have been resolved – the economic embargo, financial and trade embargo that causes enormous human and economic [pain]. I call on the government of the United States to remove the obstacles that impede or restrict the links and the bonds among our peoples.”

Following his return, Gross addressed the media on Wednesday, thanking Obama, his family, lawmakers, and his legal team in securing his release. ”What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country,” he said.

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