Obama, Castro herald new era at Americas SummitArchive
PANAMA CITY: US President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro heralded a new era of bilateral relations on Saturday as they both addressed a landmark Summit of the Americas ahead of historic one-on-one talks.
Sitting around an oval table with some 30 other regional leaders in Panama City, Obama and Castro spoke one after the other in an unprecedented public exchange between the leaders of the Cold War-era foes.
“This shift in US policy represents a turning point for our entire region”, Obama said. “The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion”. As the US leader looked on, Castro declared: “President Obama is an honest man”.
But both leaders acknowledged that the two countries, as they negotiate to restore diplomatic relations that broke off in 1961, will continue to have disagreements.
Obama cited the human rights situation in Cuba, while Castro renewed calls for the US Congress to lift a decades-old embargo.
“I think it’s no secret, President Castro I’m sure would agree, that there will continue to be significant differences between our two countries,” Obama said.
Taking their bid to restore diplomatic ties to a new level, Obama and Castro will have a discussion on the sidelines of the second and final day of the summit.
The two leaders already said hello late Friday, greeting each other and shaking hands — a gesture rich in symbolism — as other leaders looked on.
The face-to-face talks will be the climax of their surprise announcement on December 17 that, after 18 months of secret negotiations, they would seek to normalize relations between their two nations. It is Cuba’s first time participating at the 21-year-old summit.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos summed up the mood, saying “an old obstacle in relations between Latin America and North America is being removed. “The last time US and Cuban leaders met was in 1956, three years before Fidel Castro came to power.
“This is not just about two leaders sitting down together,” said senior Obama advisor Ben Rhodes.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2015
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