Castro made the announcement a Revolution Day ceremony. BBC News
reports that the countries have not had diplomatic relations for 5 decades. US trade and travel to Cuba is virtually entirely outlawed.
"Any day they want, the table is set. This has already been set through diplomatic channels," Castro announced at the ceremony, The AP
reports. "If they want to talk, we will talk."
Castro said the Cuban government is prepared to discuss "the problems of human rights, democracy, etc, but on equal terms because we are no one's colony," BBC News
According to The Guardian
, Mike Hammer, assistant secretary for public affairs at the US State department, responded by saying that before any meaningful talks can take place, Cuba must meet certain demands. The country must institute democratic reforms, improve human rights, and release Alan Gross, an American who has been serving 15 years in prison for bringing satellite equipment into cuba illegally on a US-Aid funded democracy-building program.
"Our message is very clear to the Castro government. They need to begin to allow for the political freedom of expression that the Cuban people demand and we are prepared to discuss with them how this can be furthered," Hammer said. "They are the ones ultimately responsible for taking those actions, and today we have not seen them."
On Wednesday, the White House called the arrest of a group of dissidents who attended the funeral of Oswaldo Paya, a prominent activist, "a stark demonstration of the climate of repression in Cuba," BBC News
Paya was killed in a car crash last weekend.
Since Paya's death, Raul Castro has accused Cuba's opposition of plotting to topple the government, The AP
"Some small factions are doing nothing less than trying to lay the groundwork and hoping that one day what happened in Libya will happen here, what they're trying to make happen in Syria," Castro said.
Thursday's Revolution Day celebration kicked off at a plaza in the Eastern province of Guantanamo, home to the US naval base and military prison, The Guardian
US presence at Guantanamo Bay is also a huge issue for the people of Havana. They have demanded the base be shut down and have accused the US of torturing terror suspects held in the military prison there.
First Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Venture said in a keynote address Thursday that Havana will continue efforts to shut down the naval base and military prison at Guantanamo Bay, BBC News