President Obama will announce Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to open embassies in Havana and Washington, an administration official confirmed to Fox News.

The announcement marks a major step in ending hostilities between the longtime foes and an opportunity to re-establish formal diplomatic relations.

The U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the reestablishment of embassies in each other’s capitals following the Dec. 17 announcement that they would move to restore ties.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to make the formal announcement Wednesday morning, the administration official said.

For Obama, ending Washington’s half-century freeze with Cuba is seen as a major element of his foreign policy legacy. He has long touted the value of engagement and argued that the U.S. embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.

Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other’s capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and do not enjoy the same status as full embassies.

While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations. Among them: talks on human rights; demands for compensation for confiscated American properties in Havana and damages to Cuba from the embargo; and possible cooperation on law enforcement, including the touchy topic of U.S. fugitives sheltering in Havana.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson, Kevin Corke and the Associated Press contributed to this report

 

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