Accompanied by Joe Biden, the president spoke Wednesday from the Rose Garden.

Accompanied by Joe Biden, the president spoke Wednesday from the Rose Garden. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Obama on Reopening U.S. Embassy in Havana: 'This Is What Change Looks Like'

But the White House's efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba face opposition from Republicans in Congress.

For the first time in more than 54 years, the United States flag will fly over the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

On Wednesday, President Obama announced that, as part of his administration's efforts to rebuild diplomatic ties with the island, both Cuba and the United States will reopen their embassies.

While, he said, there have been "very real, profound" differences between the United States and Cuba, Obama said that diplomatic isolation has not worked as a strategy.

"It's long past time to realize that this approach doesn't work. It hasn't worked for 50 years," Obama said at a press conference in the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning. "This is what change looks like."

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba is expected to open on July 22, and Secretary of State John Kerryplans to travel to Havana for the occasion. There has been no official U.S. Embassy in Cuba since diplomatic relations between the two countries ended in 1961.

Obama said that re-establishing the embassies is "not merely symbolic," but will allow American diplomats to work with Cuba's government and citizens on issues like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development. But while he welcomed the new relationship with Cuba, Obama hedged his support for the country's government.

"We will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America's enduring support for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information," Obama said. "We will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values. However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement."

The White House has faced significant objections over reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba from Republicans in Congress.

Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the White House's decision Wednesday, saying the Obama administration has had too light a touch with Raúl Castro's government.

"It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the president's December 17 announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people," Rubio said in a statement. "I intend to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed."

After Obama's remarks, Sen. Ted Cruz quickly tweeted his disapproval of the decision.

"It's unacceptable and a slap in the face of a close ally that the United States will have an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem," he wrote.

And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who worked hard to establish relationships in Miami's Cuban community during his time in office—also opposed the decision.

"As Americans prepare to celebrate the anniversary of our freedom from tyranny and commit anew to the democratic principles on which our nation was founded, it is no small irony that President Obama prepares to open an embassy in Havana, further legitimizing the brutal Castro regime," Bush said in a statement.

"The real test of the Obama administration's rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama's legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people. The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human-rights abuses suggest the administration's policy is failing this test."

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