WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury announced some limited changes to its sanctions regime against Cuba, allowing banks to open accounts for Cuban nationals outside Cuba and eliminating some restrictions on those accounts.

The changes were part of a broader amendment of Treasury and Commerce department regulations with respect to decades-old economic sanctions against Cuba's communist government, including easing limitations on remittances that can be sent to ordinary Cubans and the ability of certain businesses to open branches inside Cuba. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the changes were part of President Obama's initiative to thaw U.S.-Cuban relations in order to affect more meaningful political change on the island nation.

"A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike," Lew said. "By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba."

Banks will now be able to open and maintain accounts for Cubans while they are located outside of Cuba, and depository institutions can maintain accounts for Cuban non-immigrants located in the U.S. Banks will also not be required to block those accounts if they are not closed before the Cuban national leaves the U.S., though the individual may only access the account while they are in the U.S. The new rules also eliminate the $250 monthly limit on payments from accounts held by Cuban nationals "to more adequately allow access to funds for living expenses," the Treasury said.

The Treasury in January allowed U.S. banks to process credit card transactions and establish correspondent banking relationships in Cuba, but banks so have taken a cautious approach toward putting down stakes in the island nation. Congress has still not lifted its embargo on Cuba and certain transactions are still forbidden, so it will likely be several years before there is a meaningful U.S. banking presence in Cuba, experts agree.

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