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American Alan Gross Released After Five Years in Cuban Prison

• U.S. to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba• Will reopen embassy in Havana• Months of secret talks• Pope Francis encouraged• Obama spoke with Raul Castro by phone for more than 45 minutes

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2012, file photo, provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba. Six days after Cuban police arrested Gross, an American contractor working on a clandestine operation, the U.S. government agency that had paid for his trip signed up a young Costa Rican for another secret mission to the island. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States and Cuba have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades, American officials said Wednesday.

The announcement comes amid a series of new confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2012, file photo, provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba. Six days after Cuban police arrested Gross, an American contractor working on a clandestine operation, the U.S. government agency that had paid for his trip signed up a young Costa Rican for another secret mission to the island. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File) American Alan Gross has been released from a Cuban prison after five years. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File)

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro were to separately address their nations around noon Wednesday. The two leaders spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Wednesday's announcements follow more than a year of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. U.S. officials said Pope Francis was personally engaged in the process and sent separate letters to Obama and Castro this summer urging them to restart relations.

Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly on the record ahead of Obama's remarks.

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2013 file photo, supporters of Alan Gross, on poster at left, mark his fourth year in a Cuban prison with a protest in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington D.C. Two U.S. senators said Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014 that they’re optimistic that the imprisoned American government contractor will be freed. Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tom Udall of New Mexico said in Havana that they met Gross for about two hours during a trip that included meetings with Cuban officials. Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's U.S. Agency for International Development. He was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) In this Dec. 3, 2013 file photo, supporters of Alan Gross mark his fourth year in a Cuban prison with a protest in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Gross, 65, was on an American plane bound for the U.S. Wednesday after being released on humanitarian grounds after more than five years in prison. He was accompanied by his wife, Judy, along with three congressional lawmakers.

As part of the resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business, and educational activities, through tourist travel remains banned.

The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 per quarter, or every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Secretary of State John Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terror.

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