Barack Obama says his first meeting with Cuban president Raul Castro is a 'turning point'

Mr Castro recalled the slights against his nation and the revolution begun by his brother, Fidel, but admitted admiration for Mr Obama

Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other at Friday’s summit
Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other at Friday’s summit

President Barack Obama hailed his first full face-to-face meeting with Raul Castro, the President of Cuba, as a possible “turning point” as the two countries tip-toed towards reconciliation at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

While the summit featured some airing of old regional grievances with the US – notably from President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela – it was the choreography of détente between Mr Castro, invited to attend for the first time, and Mr Obama, including their first handshake earlier on Saturday, which captured most of the attention.

In his speech to summit leaders, Mr Castro recalled the slights against his nation and the revolution begun by his brother, Fidel, but admitted admiration for Mr Obama, saying he had read both his memoirs. “I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the revolution and the sanctions that followed,” he said. “I apologise to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”

Their meeting was the first between Cuban and American leaders since the revolution that brought Mr Castro’s older brother to power in 1959. “This is obviously an historic meeting,” Mr Obama said at its start, noting the time had come for a new approach. “It was time for us to try something new. We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future.”

Later, the US President said their bilateral talks had been “candid and fruitful” and a possible “turning point”. Absent, though, was the long-awaited announcement that the US was ready to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Mr Obama told journalists he still had to study a recommendation submitted by the US State Department last week.

In a further sign of the improved mood, the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, confirmed she had accepted an invitation to visit Washington. She had shelved plans for a trip in 2013, following a row over US spying on the Brazilian government.

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