Progress has been made since December 17, 2014, when President Obama told the world that the United States would begin normalizing its relations with Cuba, reversing a policy in place since 1961.

The U.S. policy that isolated Cuba from the United States for 54 years failed to foster a more prosperous, free and democratic nation, the Obama administration said. Obama’s course change aims to increase human connections and entrepreneurial activity between the two nations.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said May 22 that the latest round of talks between the two countries had been “highly productive.” She said she is optimistic that diplomatic relations will be restored.

When President Obama (right) and Cuban President Raúl Castro held talks in April, it was the first formal meeting in more than 50 years between U.S. and Cuban heads of state. (© AP Images)

“We will persist, inspired by the conviction that engagement and not isolation are the keys to moving forward. We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies,” she said.

“These are the first steps in the long process of normalization that will allow us to better represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people,” Jacobson added.

On April 14, President Obama notified Congress that he was rescinding Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, and that decision went into effect May 29.

To move the process of normalization along, Congress will need to amend or repeal two laws. The 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act limits U.S. tourist travel to Cuba, and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act legislatively mandated the Cuba embargo, which had until then been an executive action.