President tells Yahoo he is interested in a journey during his second word, but Im not just very interested in validating the status quo

Barack Obama wants to visit Cuba before the end of his presidency, but only if sufficient reforms are carried out to secure civil liberty and opponent voices, he said in an interview released on Monday.

Obama cited Myanmar as two examples where his visit has helped preserve democratic momentum and indicated the same principle could apply in the socialist island nation.

I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I guess the conditions have to be right, Obama told Yahoo! News. And what Ive said to the Cuban government is: If, in fact, I with confidence can say that were insuring some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, Id love to use a visit as a route of highlighting that progress.

If were going backwards, then theres not much reason for me to be there. Im not interested in just validating the status quo. But the good news is theres overwhelming support for normalisation among the Cuban people and theres overwhelming is supportive of normalisation among the American people, and so my hope is that some time next year we look at the conditions there and say: You know what , now would be a good time to shine a light on progression thats been attained but also to nudge the Cuban government in the right direction.

A year ago Obama and the Cuban president, RaAol Castro, revealed that they had held secret negotiations and were prepared to begin re-establishing full diplomatic relations. Embassies reopened in Havana and Washington, the US removed Cuba from its listing of state the list of sponsors of terrorism, and the two countries took steps to increase travel and business opportunities.

Obama has implemented numerous changes using executive powers, but he requires Congress to lift the US trade embargo. His determination to offer an olive branch to an old foe has been criticised, but in the past the White House has defended visits to countries such as China, Russia and Ethiopia as opportunities to raise issues of concern.

The president said: I find a lot of hours when I go on a visit , not only there is a fresh coat of paint on all the buildings along my route, but metaphorically, I think, theres an interest on the part of the government to spruce things up. We considered that in Burma, in Myanmar,where my visit built on a lot of a incredible work that had been to be undertaken by human activists and organisations and people like Mrs aung san suu kyi, and when I got there it kind of devoted that extra lift to undercurrents, changes that were already taking place, and Id like to see something similar happen in Cuba.

In the interview, which coincided with the anniversary of the announcement that Havana and Washington would restore ties, Obama also said a precondition would be that he can meet pro-democracy dissidents.

If I go on a visit, then part of the bargain is that I get to talk to everybody. Ive made very clear in my dialogues immediately with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.

Obama also reaffirmed his intention to close the US military prison in GuantA! namo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves office in January 2017. Asked if he would then return the facility to the Cuban government, Obama said that decision would probably be made by a future president.

Despite a campaign pledge to close the prison established to hold terrorism suspects after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Obama has faced sustained resistance in Congress to transferring the inmates, especially to American prisons. There are 107 inmates left at GuantA! namo, which once held more than 600.

In the Yahoo! News interview, Obama defended his government vetting and release of prisoners held there and said there would be strategic gains in closing GuantA! namo.

Read more: www.theguardian.com