I said several times this year that normalization of relations with Cuba is long overdue. Now it appears that it could be happening sooner than anyone expected:

American officials say the U.S. and Cuba will start talks to normalize full diplomatic relations as part of the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades.

Officials say the U.S. is also looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months. The moves are part of an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that also includes the release of American Alan Gross and three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.

Assuming that the talks are successful, this will be a very welcome change in relations between our countries. Restoring normal relations with Cuba most likely won’t produce immediate or dramatic changes in Cuba’s political system, but no one should expect that to happen. It isn’t guaranteed to improve most things in Cuba, but no one has ever promised that it would. What it does do is eliminate artificial and unnecessary barriers between the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. will finally start treating one of its closest neighbors as a normal country with the usual commercial and diplomatic ties that go along with this. It means ending more than fifty years of fruitless hostility and replacing it with a relationship that at least has the potential to become mutually beneficial in the future.

The administration deserves credit for trying to make such a significant change to Cuba policy. When relations are restored with Havana, it will be a genuinely praiseworthy achievement of Obama’s second term. Normalization with Cuba is broadly popular in the U.S. and has been becoming more so over the years, but there is a dedicated core of supporters of the status quo that will presumably put up strong resistance to these changes. Let’s hope that they’re unsuccessful in any attempt to delay or derail this rapprochement. Once relations are restored, it will be much harder for a future administration to break them again, and in the future there will be many Americans with incentives to make U.S.-Cuban ties stronger.