"I share the concern of dissidents and human rights activists that this is still a regime that oppresses its people. I don't anticipate overnight changes," Obama said at the annual press conference on Friday.
Obama said that through engagement with Cuba the United States will have a better chance of seeing change in Cuba.
Friday’s press conference wraps up Obama’s sixth year in office ahead of his annual Christmas and New Year vacation in Hawaii scheduled until January 3.
Cuban Embargo Cannot be Lifted Right Away
"I think that ultimately we [the United States] need to go ahead [and] pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we are interested in, but I don't anticipate that that happens right away," Obama said. "I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward, before there is any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo."
"And I will certainly weigh in," he added. "What I do think is going to happen, there is going to be a process where Congress digests it. There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach. There are bipartisan detractors of this new approach. People will see how the actions we take unfold. And I think there is going to be a healthy debate inside the Congress."
Obama Says He Hopes to Visit Cuba, But Not Target Right Now
US President Barack Obama hopes to visit Cuba sometime, but it is not a priority to negotiate with Havana right now.
Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would establish relations with Cuba after a more than 50-year hiatus. As part of the opening, the United States will ease travel to Cuba for American citizens, open limited areas of trade, increase allowable remittances and ease restrictions on some financial translations, such as credit card use in Cuba.