US lawmakers in Cuba, first since Obama re-election

US lawmakers are in Havana to meet with Cuban officials and hope to visit an American contractor jailed for distributing laptops and satellite phones, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

It was the first such visit since President Barack Obama won re-election in November.

Sources at the US Interests Section -- the countries have no formal diplomatic ties -- said the delegation arrived Monday and is led by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

He visited Cuba last year and met with President Raul Castro.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the trip and said that US diplomats met with several lawmakers beforehand.

"Our understanding from the (delegation) is that they have been told that they will have an opportunity to see Alan Gross," Nuland told reporters.

Nuland said that the State Department expected the lawmakers to call for Gross' "immediate release."

"We will look forward to the results of their diplomacy on his behalf and, more broadly, with regard to all of our concerns about Cuba" on human rights and other issues, she said.

Gross was arrested in December 2009 for illegally distributing laptops and communications equipment to members of Cuba's small Jewish community under a State Department contract.

He is serving a 15-year jail term for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of the communist-ruled island.

His case has heightened tensions between the two countries, with Washington making his release a condition for improved ties.

Cuba has made it clear it is ready to negotiate Gross's release in exchange for the release of five captured Cuban spies held in the United States. But Washington has ruled this out.

After visiting Cuba, the American lawmakers will head to Haiti on Wednesday.