UPDATE 9-Obama spars with Cuba's Castro over human rights in historic visit
(Adds dinner, prisoner detail)
By Matt Spetalnick and Frank Jack Daniel
HAVANA, March 21 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama pushed Cuba to improve human rights during his historic visit to the Communist-led island on Monday, publicly sparring with President Raul Castro who showed flashes of anger and hit back at U.S. "double standards".
Obama praised Castro for openly discussing their differences but he said a "full flowering" of the relationship would happen only with progress on the issue of rights.
"In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant," Obama said in a joint news conference with Castro that began with jokes but was tense at times.
"America believes in democracy. We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values but are universal values," he said.
Both men's remarks were broadcast live on Cuban state television from Cuba's Palace of the Revolution in a room draped with the Stars and Stripes and the Cuban flag.
Castro countered that no country meets all international rights but appeared uncomfortable as he made the rare step of taking questions from journalists in a country where the media is state controlled.
Obama, the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, agreed in 2014 to improve relations with the former Cold War foe but he is under pressure at home to push Castro's government to allow political dissent and to further open its Soviet-style economy. Continuación...