Pope personally involved in secret US-Cuba talks

Pope Francis on his way to attend the Via Crucis during World Youth Day celebrations in July in Rio de Janeiro.
Buda Mendes | Getty Images

After a half-century of enmity between the United States and Cuba, the two nations have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations and economic trade.

Wednesday's historic announcement included the release of American prisoner Alan Gross along with the exchange of three Cubans jailed in America for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba.

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President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke by phone on Tuesday for more than 45 minutes. It was the first time since 1961 that a presidential-level discussion has taken place between the two nations.

For more than a year, secret talks had taken place between U.S. and Cuban officials both in Canada and at the Vatican. The Pope wrote letters to both Obama and Castro inviting them to resolve their situation through humanitarian efforts.

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President Obama personally thanked Pope Francis in his statement on Wednesday, "To those who have supported these measures I thank you for being partners in our efforts. In particular, I want to thank his holiness Pope Francis whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be rather than simply settling for the world as it is."

Obama also thanked the government of Canada for hosting discussions and a group of bipartisan congressmen who had worked towards Alan Gross' release.

The Vatican issued a statement on behalf of The Pope on Wednesday congratulating the nations "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 Associated Press contributed to this report.