HAVANA, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) — A high-ranking Cuban official welcomed the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday, saying it was "a further step toward improving relations" between the Caribbean nation and the United States.

Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs from the Cuban foreign ministry, said at a press conference that the historic visit, the first by a U.S. president since 1928, will offer Obama a chance to get firsthand information about the isolated island.

The visit, due to take place from March 21 to March 22, will provide Obama with "an important opportunity to directly appreciate the Cuban reality and everything we have been doing in recent years", which will "better the wellbeing of the Cuban people," said Vidal.

The White House website dedicated its frontpage to the visit Thursday. The announcement, headlining "President Obama is going to Cuba," came with a picture of a plane flying over the Caribbean island.

Obama also posted a flurry of messages on his Twitter account, saying the trip is "to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people."

The U.S. top leader also said that "we still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly," including the issue of human rights.

In response, Vidal said that "Cuba is open to talking with the United States on any issue," and "Cuba has its opinions too about how human rights have been exercised in many countries, including the United States."

The normalization of bilateral relations depends on the resolution of key outstanding issues, including the lifting of the blockade, and the return to Cuba of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base, Vidal said.

A Cuban netizen said on the Cubasi website that "I'm going to take him to have lunch at my local diner so he can see the effects of his government's cruel and ruthless embargo against us."

Obama's Cuba visit will be part of a Latin America tour that will also take him to Argentina.

After more than 50 years of icy interactions, Cuban President Raul Castro and Obama met in the United Nations General Assembly last September, after their first historic face-to-face encounter at the Summit of the Americas last April.

The last U.S. president to have visited Cuba was Calvin Coolidge, according to the White House.