The Cuban flag was raised over Havana's embassy in Washington on Monday for the first time in 54 years as the United States and Cuba formally restored relations, opening a new chapter of engagement between the former Cold War foes.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez presided over the re-inauguration of the embassy, a milestone in the diplomatic thaw that began with a breakthrough announcement by US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17.
The US Embassy in Havana was also officially reopened for business. But the Stars and Stripes will not be hoisted there until a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry expected next month.
Without fanfare in the pre-dawn hours, maintenance workers also hung the Cuban flag in the lobby of the US State Department, where it joined the banners of other countries with which the United States has diplomatic relations.
Serious differences remain between the United States and Communist-ruled Cuba, and efforts toward full normalization of ties are expected to proceed slowly for now. But the steps that officially took effect on Monday carried enormous symbolism after more than two years of initially secret negotiations between governments that had long shunned each other.
More than 500 people, including Obama administration officials, U.S. lawmakers and a large visiting Cuban delegation, attended the ceremony at the nearly century-old mansion that was being converted back into the Cuban Embassy.