Trump also slammed the Castro regime for its human rights record. He pledged to "expose the crimes of the Castro regime" and support Cubans. He argued that freedom for Cubans would be in the interest of Americans.
"For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination," Trump said. "To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores."
Trump pledged to pursue a deal that would better serve the interests of both the U.S. and the Cuban people.
"With God's help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve," Trump said.
Citing the regime's treatment of the Cuban people is puzzling, considering Trump has previously praised other countries and leaders with similarly checkered histories.
For example, Trump has previously praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his drug crackdown, saying he has done an "unbelievable job" even though the campaign has led to the extrajudicial killing of thousands of his own people.
When pressed on this point during a Thursday night briefing, a senior White House official said that the administration "will continue to take an aggressive stance" on human rights, but declined to comment on foreign policy related to other nations.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., lauded the policy changes, saying that Trump has fulfilled a campaign promise he made in Miami. In 2016, then-candidate Trump called for a reversal of Obama's normalization of Cuba policy, saying he would demand religious and political freedom for the Cuban people as well as the release of political prisoners.
"U.S. policy will ensure that the Cuban military — which oppresses the Cuban people and it beats the Cuban people through its thugs and imprisons political activists and spies on its neighbors — they can no longer benefit from increased trade and travel," said Diaz-Balart.