NEW DELHI: United States President Barack Obama has moved to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the White House said on Tuesday. "The government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period," Obama said in a report submitted to Congress, with the lawmakers now having 45 days in which they can oppose the decision.

The move is an important step toward improving ties, enabling Cuba to gain access to US banking system, permitting an embassy to be opened and paving the way for furthering trade ties.

The announcement follows talks between Obama and Raul Castro three days earlier -- the first such meeting between US and Cuban leaders in over half a century.

The move is part of a deal announced in December 2014, where Obama expressed his willingness to remove Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The dead in 2014 provided a major breakthrough in US-Cuba relations, effectively setting the political standoff that spanned five decades and ten Presidents to crumble.

“Vowing to cut loose the shackles of the past,” Obama, in a nationally televised statement from the White House, said, “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

The surprise announcement was made after reportedly 18 months of secret negotiations. As part of the deal:

1. The travel ban was modified

Tourist travel is still prohibited, as the embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress. However, musicians, artists, performers, journalists, individuals on behalf of the US government, sports teams, education and religious groups -- will all be able to travel to Cuba.

Tourist travel is going to be unlikely given the make-up of the House and Senate. In fact, backlash against the deal was quick to surgace, with Republicans accusing the deal as being a measure of appeasement toward dictatorship. “This entire policy shift announced is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants as quoted in the New York Times. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”

2. Transfer of money to families in Cuba

The cap on remittances Americans can send their families in Cuba will be raised from $500 to $2,000.

3. Hello Cuban cigars

Americans traveling legally in Cuba will be allowed to bring back p to $400 in Cuban goods, including up to $100 of tobacco and alcohol. Goods can still not be bought online or over the phone -- you have to be in the country in order to purchase.

4. Removing Cuba off the "state sponsor of terrorism" list

Cuba was put on the "state sponsor of terrorism" list in 1982 by the US State Department and has since, remained there, until now.

The deal came after a US prisoner Alan P. Gross -- who has been arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to deliver satellite telephone equipment capable of cloaking connections to the Internet -- walked out free. The release was apparently negotiated by Pope Francis, as it was proving to be a thorn in the normalisation of US-Cuban relations -- a priority area for the Obama administration. In 2009 Obama had moved to ease some travel restrictions, but further headway could not be made, partly because of Gross.

In turn, the US sent back three imprisoned Cuban spies who were caught in 1998 and had become a cause célèbre for the Havana government. Cuba also released Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years. Cuban officials maintain that Gross was not initially part of the swap agreement, but was released on “humanitarian grounds” -- a claim that is fairly dubious given the US’ efforts to release Gross.

The embargo however, is to remain in place, although Obama spoke of an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.

Speaking on television, Raul Castro said, “We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations… President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”Referring to the blockade however, Castro said, “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved… The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.” However, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems,” Castro added.

Tuesday’s announcement, however, is without doubt a concrete step in the direction toward normalisation.