Pope congratulates US, Cuba on historic thaw

Pope Francis waves to the crowd at St Peter's Square on December 17, 2014, at the Vatican

Pope Francis on Wednesday congratulated the United States and Cuba for the historic thaw announced between Washington and the communist-run Caribbean island.

"The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history," the Vatican said in a statement.

It added that the pontiff had sent letters to the US and Cuban leaders in recent months and offered their delegations his offices in October to "facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties."

The Vatican will "continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations," the statement said.

The Catholic Church has been at the centre of efforts to promote gradual democratisation in Cuba. Visits by popes John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012 were seen as milestones in the rapprochement between the Vatican and communist regime.