(CNSNews.com) - Former President Jimmy Carter Friday said he expects to receive "tacit approval," from the Bush administration to visit Cuba later this year.
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro Thursday extended a formal invitation to Carter to visit Cuba sometime this year, but Carter said he would accept the invitation only if it's okayed by the administration.
"I expect to get their tacit approval, not their blessing," the former president said during a media luncheon at the Carter Center in Atlanta.
"We can't go, obviously, without the permission of the government. My understanding is that they will give that approval," said Carter. The White House did not return calls Friday seeking comment.
If Carter does go, he will be the first American president (former or current) to make such a trip since Castro took over the communist run nation in 1959.
After leaving office in 1981, Carter said he would have pursued better relations with the Castro regime, had Ronald Reagan not defeated him in 1980. Carter also said he supports easing U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba as well.
The Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group based in the U.S., said if Carter does visit Havana, he should make the Castro government's human rights record a top priority.
"If Mister Carter intends to accept this invitation ... I think he should make human rights the number one issue. Otherwise, he should stay home," said Mariela Ferretti, a spokesman for CANF.
During a recent interview with CNSNews.com, Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center For A Free Cuba, was skeptical about a possible Carter visit to the communist-run island.
"I certainly welcome the visit of President Jimmy Carter to Cuba and I hope that either before his arrival or during his arrival, all Cuban political prisoners will be released and allowed to stay in Cuba or travel abroad if they wish to do so," Calzon said.
"Unless the prisoners are released, I think the visit of former President Carter, who is the epitome of human rights, will be a charade," he added.
E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.