It also comes ahead of Obama travelling to Trinidad and Tobago for the summit of the Americas later this week.

Easing restrictions

A US delegation to Cuba last week urged
both nations to resume ties [EPA]
The proposed moves also include expanding the type of items permitted in parcels being sent to Cuba by the approximate 1.5 million Americans who have relatives in Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing equipment and other personal necessities.

The administration will also begin issuing licenses to allow US companies to provide mobile phones and television services to people on the island, and permit relatives to pay for family members there to get the services, the official said.

In March last year Raul Castro, president of Cuba, eased restrictions on the ownership of phones, DVD players and cars and permitted Cubans to stay in foreign-owned hotels.

The move sparked hopes for further freedoms for Cubans under Raul, who took over the presidency after Fidel Castro, his brother, resigned in February 2008.

Embargo concerns

Several Latin American nations had been pressing for the US to lift its embargo, which has left Cuba isolated for decades.

And last week a Democratic congressional delegation visited Cuba and issued a plea for both nations to normalise diplomatic relations and sort out their differences.

However, Obama said during his presidential campaign last year that he would keep the embargo in place, arguing that it provides political leverage to pressure the Cuban government over progress on human rights.

Under rules enacted in 2004 by the administration of George Bush, Obama's predecessor, Cuban-Americans could travel to the island just once every three years and could send only $300 every to their relatives.

The two nations have not had diplomatic ties since 1960, when the US severed ties following the revolution under Fidel Castro.