Washington does not have diplomatic or economic relations with Havana, but there are signs that the situation will be eased under Obama.

"I'm convinced Raul Castro wants a normal relationship with the United States," Lee told The Associated Press news agency after Monday's meeting.

"We talked about all the issues necessary to normal relations between our two countries," she said. "It was a constructive dialogue."

'Friendship and peace'

The US congress is preparing to consider bills that would allow Americans to travel to Cuba, which has been largely banned under a US trade embargo imposed on the island since 1962.
   
Media reports have also suggested that Obama will keep a campaign promise to remove limits on family travel and remittances between the US and Cuba.

Fidel Castro wrote in a column published on the internet on Monday: "It is not necessary to emphasise what Cuba has always said: We don't fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some fools think."

He said that dialogue "is the only way of procuring friendship and peace between peoples".

Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the US senate foreign relations committee, said last week that US policy towards Cuba had "not only failed to promote human rights and democracy, but also undermines our broader security and political interests".

In another column on Monday, Fidel Castro said that he valued the gesture of the legislative group's visit, which may have dispelled any members' negative views about Cuba.

"It's unlikely that the delegation has seen a face twisted with an expression of hate, and maybe they admire the total absence of illiterate people or children shining shoes in the street," he wrote.