Raul Castro urges Obama to further push budding US-Cuba reconciliation

Cuban President Raul Castro urged his US counterpart Barack Obama to accelerate their countries' budding rapprochement Friday in a phone call, after Washington further eased restrictions on business and travel.

Castro "emphasized the need to deepen the reach" of the measures taken so far and reiterated his call to end the full embargo the US has maintained on the communist island since 1962, said a statement from the Cuban president's office.

The White House confirmed the call and said the leaders discussed ways to "advance bilateral cooperation, even as we will continue to have differences on important issues and will address those differences candidly."

The call came after the United States removed limits on sending money to Cuba, made it easier for Americans to open businesses on the island and further eased restrictions on travel.

The measures are the latest softening in the sanctions the US has maintained on Cuba since shortly after Castro's brother Fidel came to power in the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

The phone call was the leaders' third since December 17, when they announced the historic rapprochement.

They also spoke on the phone in April before meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Panama.

Both leaders praised the role Pope Francis played in bringing the two countries together, as the pontiff prepared to embark on a visit to both nations.

They hailed the pope's "contribution to starting a new era in relations between the two countries," the Cuban presidency said, in comments echoed by the White House.

The pope is due to arrive Saturday in Cuba for a four-day visit before continuing on to the United States.