WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The United States and Cuba have formally agreed to re-establish diplomatic efforts and open embassies in their capital cities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday.

“This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas,” Obama said.

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The Cuban government said Wednesday morning that Havana and Washington will reopen the embassies July 20.

Later this summer, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana to raise the American flag over the U.S. Embassy there, Obama said.

“This is not merely sympbolic,” Obama said. “With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people, we’ll have more personnel at our embassy, and our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.”

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba was shuttered in 1961.

“There have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Obama said. “For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working, instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people. Our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect.

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“The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we will and can change.”

The president also called on Congress to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. He said lawmakers should listen to the Cuban people and the American people who oppose maintaining economic sanctions against the island nation.

Obama said the move does not mean the two nations will not have “some very serious differences,” namely over issues such as freedom of speech and the ability to access information.

The Foreign Ministry in Havana announcement the agreement first Wednesday morning after receiving a letter from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro. U.S. Interests Section chief Jeffrey DeLaurentis arrived at the Cuban Foreign Ministry in Havana on Wednesday morning to hand-deliver the message.

The head of the U.S. Interest Section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, left, shakes hands with Cuban Foreign Vice Minister Marcelino Medina after giving him a letter from President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Havana on July 1, 2015. (Credit: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the U.S. Interest Section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, left, shakes hands with Cuban Foreign Vice Minister Marcelino Medina after giving him a letter from President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Havana on July 1, 2015. (Credit: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images)

Photographers and video journalists were allowed to document the encounter, but neither he nor Cuban officials spoke publicly.

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