Wednesday 22 November 2017

Obama brings Cuba in from the cold

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to business leaders at the CEO Summit of the Americas in Panama City. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to business leaders at the CEO Summit of the Americas in Panama City. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Marszal in New York

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro arrived in Panama for a historic meeting between the leaders at the Summit of the Americas which is expected to accelerate the rapprochement between the Cold War rivals.

The pair met at a dinner along with 33 other regional leaders, marking the first time presidents from the US and Cuba have shared a table since Mr Castro's older brother Fidel led the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Even ahead of that encounter, the two countries' foreign ministers met, in the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the earliest days of the Cuban revolution more than half a century ago.

US Secretary of State John Kerry's encounter with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was described as "very constructive" by the US State Department, raising hopes of an imminent deal on issues such as Cuba's removal from the list of nations sponsoring terror, and the reopening of embassies.

The foreign ministers' meeting marked the first time the two nations' chief diplomats have met since a historic rapprochement by Mr Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Mr Castro, that was announced on December 17 last year.

The closed-door meeting took place at a Panama City hotel on the eve of a Western Hemisphere summit where Mr Obama and Mr Castro will cross paths. Other regional leaders are also gathering in Panama City for the Summit of the Americas, which is held every three years.

An earlier statement from the US State Department said nothing about whether Mr Obama may remove Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that is widely expected following the rapprochement between the two countries. But a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide said that the State Department had recommended that Mr Obama remove Cuba from the list. Mr Obama's decision to move toward restoring diplomatic ties marks a sea change in relations since the Cuban revolution, when American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island on January 1, 1959, as Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries seized control.

John Foster Dulles and Gonzalo Guell were the last US and Cuban foreign ministers to hold a formal meeting, which took place in Washington, DC, on September 22, 1958, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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