U.S. President Barack Obama said in a meeting here with Cuban dissidents that he had begun to see "changes" on the communist-ruled island.

Obama met Friday with a group of prominent Cuban government opponents, including Guillermo Fariñas and the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, at the residence of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation.

The U.S. president referred to Cuba's recent relaxing of economic and travel restrictions, adding that the United States needs to be "creative" and imaginative in its relations with the Caribbean island.

Obama lamented the growing "partisanship" in Washington with respect to Cuba, saying it was blocking the chance for further progress on that foreign policy front.

The United States has started to see changes on the island, Obama said in his first meeting with Cuban dissidents in his five years as president.

Havana has introduced free-market reforms since President Raul Castro took over from his older brother Fidel in 2006 and this year loosened restrictions on Cubans traveling abroad.

At the start of the 40-minute gathering, attended by roughly 30 people, Fariñas said it was proof of the White House's support for Cuba's dissident movement and added that he would personally ask Obama not to hold any meeting with the Cuban government without the presence of the opposition.

Asked after the meeting if he feared returning to the island, Fariñas said he was not concerned but he also did not rule out "reprisals" by the Cuban authorities.

Soler, who was dressed in white at the gathering, told reporters afterward that "Cuba's freedom depends exclusively on Cubans."

Obama visited Miami Friday afternoon for a Democratic fundraiser and returned to Washington on Saturday. 

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