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Obama, Castro to meet on sidelines of summit
President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro will hold a bilateral meeting Saturday on the margins of the Summit of the Americas here, the first such encounter between leaders of the two nations in more than 50 years, White House officials said.
Planning for an Obama-Castro meeting has been a slow diplomatic choreography since December, when the two leaders announced that Cuba and the United States would restore diplomatic relations, including three rounds of lower-level negotiations over the mechanics of normalization.
The leaders' meeting will occur on the margins of Saturday's formal summit gatherings, when "we anticipate they will have a discussion," deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes said.
In a symbolic icebreaker, the two "greeted each other and shook hands" at the beginning of the summit's opening session and dinner Friday night, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. A White House official said it "was an informal interaction and there was not a substantive conversation." They have met face to face only once before, for a handshake at Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa.
Confirmation of a Saturday meeting came as the Cuban delegation to a gathering of civil society leaders said it would not attend meetings being held here as part of the summit because of the presence of "terrorist individuals" and "mercenaries" it said were in the pay of unnamed -foreign powers.
The apparent reference was to members of the Cuban diaspora in the United States who have long been accused of anti-Castro acts, some of whom have been outspoken in opposition to U.S.-Cuba rapprochement.
The announcement of the Obama-Castro meeting and extensive Cuban outreach to foreign business leaders, including Americans, has contrasted sharply with the denunciations of -Cuban Americans and Cuban support for anti-U.S. leaders such as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
And the competing impulses illustrate the narrow line Havana is walking as it moves closer to the United States while trying to retain its control at home and its self-proclaimed revolutionary image.
Obama and Castro spoke by telephone this week as both prepared to leave their capitals for the 35-nation hemispheric gathering. On Thursday evening, Secretary of State John F. Kerry met here for more than two hours with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, another historic first.
Obama's standing in the Western Hemisphere has been enhanced by the highly popular Cuba agreement. The last two Americas summits, in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago and in 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia, ended on sour notes over U.S. insistence that Cuba continue to be excluded from the gathering.
Although full normalization of relations -- including the lifting of congressionally mandated U.S. economic sanctions -- will be gradual and may be years away, reestablishment of diplomatic relations, severed by the United States in 1961, can be quickly done by the two presidents.
The main roadblock has been Cuba's refusal to do so until the United States removes Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. After a months-long review, the State Department recommended to Obama this week that he do so.
[Source: By Karen DeYoung and Nick Miroff, The Washington Post, 10Apr15]
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