US lawmakers travel to Cuba amid standoff over jailed American

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Associated Press

Posted on February 18, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 18 at 8:04 PM

HAVANA (AP) — A delegation of American lawmakers is in Cuba this evening.

The group led by Sen. Patrick Leahy is there to gauge the Communist-run country's economic changes and press for the release of a jailed American whose detention has chilled relations between the two countries. Alan Gross is serving a 15-year sentence for illegally distributing communications equipment on the island while on a U.S.-funded democracy-building program.

A State Department official tells The Associated Press that the lawmakers will stress that freeing Gross is a prerequisite for improved ties.

Cuba has said it is willing to consider releasing the 63-year-old, but in return wants Washington to negotiate the fate of five Cuban intelligence agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States.

Leahy says while the group would like to bring Gross home, that's not likely on this trip.

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