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Held for five years in Cuba, 65-year-old American contractor Alan Gross has been released from prison and is en route to U.S. soil, ABC News has learned exclusively.

In a landmark humanitarian prisoner exchange to be announced by President Obama shortly at the White House, the agreement was reached following more than a year of secret back channel talks at the highest levels of both governments.

Today’s release of Gross, who is said to be in poor physical condition, represents a first step toward normalizing relations with the neighbor just 90-miles off the Florida coast.

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Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba while working as a subcontractor for United State Agency for International Development.

The Cuban government accused him of being party to a U.S.-led plot to overthrow the government through an “Arab spring.”

Following a recent visit, Gross’ attorney described him as nearly toothless, barely able to walk because of arthritis in his hips and blind in one eye. He has been kept in a small room at a military hospital 24 hours a day with two other Cuban political prisoners.

Gross has refused medical and dental care or outside privileges, and declined visits and food from the U.S. Interest section in Havana. He had promised a hunger strike leading to death if not released by the end of this year.

In a statement released earlier this month to mark the anniversary of Gross’ time in jail, Gross’s wife Judy said: “Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community.”

In return for Gross, the United States has agreed to the humanitarian release of three Cuban agents convicted of espionage in a controversial trial that found them guilty of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami, but not the U.S. government. All three were most recently held in North Carolina at a federal medical facility for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The humanitarian release is just the beginning of a promised new relationship with Cuba. The White House is indicating the beginning of new talks on everything from travel restrictions to eventual lifting of the Cuban embargo in place since John F. Kennedy was President.

In an interview last week with Jorge Ramos for Fusion -- a sister network to ABC News -- President Obama said: “We’ve been in conversations about how we can get Alan Gross home for quite some time.”

"We continue to be concerned about him. We think that he shouldn’t have been held in the first place,” Obama told Ramos. “With respect to Cuba generally, I’ve made very clear that the policies that we have in making remittances easier for Cuban families, and making it easier for families to travel, have been helpful to people inside Cuba... But the Cuban government still needs to make significant changes."

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