Obama, Castro hold historic meeting, vow to turn the page

World Today

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Cuba’s President Raul Castro (L) on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. (AFP PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN)

The leaders of the United States and Cuba held their first formal meeting in more than half a century on Saturday. This cleared the way for a normalization of relations that had seemed unthinkable to both Cubans and U.S. citizens for generations.

In a small conference room in a Panama City convention center, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat side by side in a bid to inject momentum into their efforts to restore diplomatic ties. Obama said he wanted to “turn the page” on old divisions, although he acknowledged that significant differences between the governments would remain.

“This is obviously a historic meeting,” Obama said shortly after the two sat down. “It was my belief it was time to try something new, that it was important for us to engage with Cuban government.”

“And more importantly, with Cuban people,” the president added.

Castro told the U.S. president he was ready to discuss sensitive issues, including human rights and freedom of the press. “Everything can be on the table,” Castro said. He also cautioned that the two countries have “agreed to disagree.”

“We are willing to make progress in the way the president has described,” the Cuban president said.

The remarkable gathering played out on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which this year included Cuba for the first time. Although the meeting wasn’t publicly announced in advance, White House aides had suggested the two leaders were looking for an opportunity to meet while in Panama and to discuss the ongoing efforts to open embassies in Havana and Washington, among other issues.

In brief remarks to reporters at the start of the meeting, Obama acknowledged that Cuba, too, would continue raising concerns about U.S. policies. Earlier in the day, Castro launched into an exhaustive history of perceived Cuban grievances against the U.S. in his speech to fellow leaders attending the summit.

This report was compiled with information from the Associated Press.


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