Raul Castro Says Cuba Open To Normalized Relations With U.S.

(HAVANA) -- Acting President Raul Castro said Cuba remains open to normalized relations with the United States, but warned the Bush administration in his first comments since assuming power that it will get nowhere with threats or pressure.

Castro also said in Friday editions of the island's Communist Party newspaper that he had mobilized tens of thousands of troops in response to what he called aggressive U.S. acts, including stepped-up radio and television broadcasts to the island, and an $80 million plan to hasten the end of the Castros' rule.

"Some of the empire's war hawks thought that the moment had come to destroy the Revolution this past July 31," the day his brother Fidel Castro's illness was announced, Raul Castro said. "We could not rule out the risk of somebody going crazy, or even crazier, within the U.S. government."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey declined on Friday to respond specifically to Raul Castro's comment but said "I don't think we're particularly enamored of the first words we heard from 'Fidel Light."'

The 75-year-old Cuban defense minister said his 80-year-old brother is undergoing a "satisfactory and gradual recovery" from intestinal surgery.

The interview seemed aimed at answering questions at home and abroad about Raul Castro's whereabouts and activities after his brother, who led the country for 47 years, granted him provisional power.

"They should be very clear that it is not possible to achieve anything in Cuba with impositions and threats," the younger Castro said of the U.S. "On the contrary, we have always been disposed to normalize relations on an equal plane.

"What we do not accept is the arrogant and interventionist policy frequently assumed by the current administration of that country," he added.

Anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts have increased since Fidel Castro's surgery, but Cuba jams the signals.

"In reality, we are totally unconcerned by the hypothetical influence of this crude and abysmally made propaganda," Raul Castro said. "That is not what this is about; it is above all a matter of sovereignty and of dignity. We would never passively allow the consumption of that aggressive act, and that is why we interfere with it."

He took issue with a statement by President Bush a few days after his brother's illness was announced: that American officials "will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba."

And he criticized the U.S. "transition" plan for Cuba, which includes $80 million in government funds for opposition groups supporting democratic change in Cuba. "The bulk of it will be distributed in Miami, as is usually the case," he said.

Raul Castro has been at his brother's side since they launched the revolution with a 1953 attack against dictator Fulgencio Batista's military. As the No. 2 man in government, he's constitutionally designated to succeed his brother permanently should Fidel Castro die or be permanently incapacitated.

He said he cared about what the Cuban people think, and noted his appearance on state television on Sunday, his brother's 80th birthday, to greet visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the airport. He also appeared in photographs taken that afternoon with his brother and Chavez.

"As a point of fact, I am not used to making frequent appearances in public, except at times when it is required," the younger Castro said. "I have always been discreet, that is my way, and in passing I will clarify that I am thinking of continuing in that way."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)