US-Cuba relations: President Obama and President Castro of Cuba expected to meet

If they meet, this will be the first time in more than 50 years a US leader has met with a Cuban leader

The US and Cuba could be closer than ever to restoring diplomatic ties as the leaders of the two countries are set to meet for the first time in more than 50 years.

President Barack Obama did not have a formal meeting scheduled with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas going on right now in Panama, but the White House indicated the two are likely to meet on the sidelines of the summit, the Associated Press reported.

“The United States will not be imprisoned by the past,” Mr Obama said on Saturday at the conference in Panama. “We're looking to the future.”

The two leaders exchanged a brief handshake on Friday, only the second time they have done so and the first in a political setting – the previous handshake occurred at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. The handshake and pleasantries indicate a major thawing in relations between the two countries.

President Obama in December announced his intentions to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and since has been taking small steps in that direction. The goal is to reopen embassies in Washington DC and Havana, respectively.

The US and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1959, when the communist revolution headed by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro toppled a US-backed government in the Caribbean country.

While speaking at the summit, Mr Castro aired plenty of past grievances his country has with the US, but called the US president an “honest man” and said those things in the past are not on the shoulders of Mr Obama.

It is not clear exactly what the two leaders will discuss, if they meet as expected, but an end to the Cuban embargo and the removal of Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorist likely will come up in the discussion.

Cuba’s presence on the terrorism-sponsor list has been a point of contention for the Cubans. Mr Obama has indicated his is willing to consider Cuba’s removal from the list.

 

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