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Will Obama ease US policy toward Cuba?

A new approach could represent a relatively easy first step down a generally more controversial path of engaging with America's adversaries.

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During the campaign, Susan Rice, Obama's chief foreign-policy adviser (and now tapped by him to become US ambassador to the United Nations), said Obama would maintain the embargo "as leverage to use as we work to negotiate with the Cuban government." She called lifting the general ban on trade and formal diplomatic ties "the ultimate step."

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Some political observers considered Obama's shift in stance on the embargo a bow to the anti-Castro Cuban-American community. But some recent polls suggest that the majority of Cuban-Americans – and especially the younger set – no longer support the embargo.

Over half (55 percent) of Cuban-Americans support ending the embargo, according to a poll conducted by Florida International University's Institute for Public Opinion Research shortly after Election Day. The poll found lowest support for the embargo among Cubans who came to the United States most recently.

Another focal point of support for change in US Cuba policy is the business community. "Cuba presents an easy opportunity for Obama to demonstrate that change is coming to American foreign policy," says Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington.

Speaking at a recent Inter-American Dialogue forum in Washington, he said that suspending restrictions to allow US business to sell machinery to Cuba and rescinding a "cash in advance" rule on agricultural sales to Cuba are "innovative" steps that Obama could take.

US business would also like to see any lifting of the travel ban to Cuba include all Americans. But even change on that order would be less than some Cuba watchers might have expected at one time from Obama. "We're going to see some changes at the margins, but less dramatic than we would expect," says Damian Fernandez, provost of Purchase College, State University of New York, who is also a Cuba expert. New under Obama will be a "tendency towards engagement" – although "engagement has its limits," he adds.

The underlying challenge to Obama's new diplomatic approach, Mr. Fernandez says, will be: "Are we willing to accept a Cuban regime that is not very good to its own people?"