updated 3/7/2008 10:41:07 AM ET 2008-03-07T15:41:07

President Bush says a leadership shift in Cuba to Fidel Castro's brother will not change U.S. policy toward the island.

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Speaking at the White House, the president chastised many democracies for failing to speak out against the regime.

Bush said the only way the United States will improve relations with Cuba is for the Cuban government to pave the way for free and fair elections, release all political prisoners and respect human rights "in word and deed."

Raul Castro assumed Cuba's presidency when his ailing brother, Fidel, stepped down last month after decades at the helm. Raul Castro had been provisional president since his brother, who led the nation for nearly a half a century, underwent emergency surgery in July 2006.

Earlier in the day Bush met with families of Cuban dissidents at the White House. It was the latest in a series of meetings to make the point that even though Castro has handed off power to his brother Raul, nothing has changed.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says there is no sign of the democratic transition in Cuba the U.S. has been seeking. She says the president is "disappointed" that the Cuban people "aren't being given the chance for a free and prosperous life."

Critics of the hard-line U.S. policy toward Cuba think ending the decades-old embargo might bring democracy closer. Perino says that would only benefit Cuba's oppressors, not its people.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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