Two days after announcing the end of a half-century-long diplomatic freeze with Cuba, President
In a wide-ranging news conference that also touched on North Korea's cyberattack on Sony Pictures and the future of his relations with
"This is still a regime that represses its people," Obama acknowledged, arguing that a new policy of engaging with President
"Change is going to come to Cuba," Obama said. "It has to."
Obama's remarks came at his end-of-year news conference, two days after he announced his administration's Cuba policy changes, timed to coincide with the release of American Alan Gross from a Cuban prison.
On Wednesday, Obama swept away more than 50 years of official separation between the two countries. His phone conversation with Castro this week was the first time a U.S. president has spoken to a Cuban head of state since the 1959 Cuban revolution.
On Obama's orders, Secretary of State
The ties, the White House believes, will make life better for Cubans living in isolation and poverty.
Critics of the president's policy believe that it mainly empowers the Castro government. Though U.S. engagement with China and Vietnam have strengthened their economies and improved the daily lives of many who live in those countries, the critics argue, it has also empowered their authoritarian governments.
Obama is finding support from some business leaders and other Republicans, including Sen.
"Communism can't survive the captivating allure of capitalism," wrote Paul, who, like Cruz, is considering a presidential run in 2016. "Let's overwhelm the Castro regime with iPhones, iPads, American cars, and American ingenuity."
Obama said he didn't expect lawmakers would soon lift the economic embargo on Cuba that has been in place for decades, but he said he hoped they would eventually do so and predicted a healthy debate in Congress.
"If you've done the same thing for 50 years and nothing's changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome," Obama said.
The president added that easing travel and the prospect of better telecommunications and Internet access would inevitably change how Cubans live.
Turning to domestic issues, Obama speculated about the possibility that he might be able to work on tax reform with Republicans who take control of Congress in January.
Republicans have said they share the same goal, he said, adding that "the devil's in the details."
The president would like to simplify the tax code and close some loopholes while freeing up money to pay for infrastructure.
He said that he wasn't resigned to gridlock and that there were "real opportunities to get things done" with the new Congress.
"I take Speaker [John A.] Boehner and
As for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project, Obama refused to tip his hand about whether he would approve it, and he sidestepped a question about whether he would sign a measure from the Republican Congress giving it the green light.
"I'll see what they do," he said. "We'll take that up in the new year."