Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Revolution Palace in Havana March 29, 2011. Carter said on Tuesday he has spoken with Cuban officials about jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, but that he was not in Cuba to seek his release in a case that has stalled improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
HAVANA, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Visiting former U.S. president Jimmy Carter met Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday afternoon, exchanging views on "important issues" related to the U.S.-Cuban ties and regional and international affairs.
Castro reaffirmed Cuba's desire for dialogue with the United States on any issue in order to improve the bilateral relations, adding that the dialogue must be based on mutual respect and the respect for Cuban independence and sovereignty, according to an official statement released on Tuesday.
The meeting was also attended by Carter's wife Rosalynn and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. The statement did not mention the case of U.S. contractor Alain Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for "acts against independence or territorial integrity of the state."
"I have talked to some Cuban officials on the Gross case," Carter said Tuesday morning, adding that his visit is not aimed at taking Gross out of Cuba, but visiting the Cuban people, government officials and citizens.
"It is a great pleasure for us to return to Havana; I hope we could help to improve the relations between the two countries," he said.
On Wednesday, the 86-year-old former U.S. president is scheduled to meet with members of some dissident groups which are accused by the Cuban authorities of "mercenaries into the service of Washington."
This is Carter's second trip to the island following that in 2002 when he met then Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Carter served as U.S. president in 1977-1981, during which he tried to improve the relations between both nations. The Carter administration once allowed U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, but the policy was canceled by his successor Ronald Reagan later.