Obama Meets Raul Castro in Highest-Level US-Cuba Talks in Decades
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - US President Barack Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday in the highest-level talks between the two countries in nearly 60 years, and the two men agreed to push ahead on improving relations after decades of hostility.
Describing their private meeting as "historic," Obama said the two countries can end the antagonism of the Cold War era, although he said he would continue to pressure the communist-led country on democracy and human rights.
"We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future," Obama told Castro as they met in Panama, where they were both attending a summit of leaders from across the Americas.
Speaking to reporters later, Obama made plain the two countries would still have their differences, Reuters reported.
"We have very different views of how society should be organized and I was very direct with him that we are not going to stop talking about issues like democracy and human rights and freedom of assembly and freedom of the press," he said.
The two men agreed in December to move to normalize relations, including seeking to restore diplomatic ties that were broken off by Washington in 1961.
Obama said he decided to overturn longstanding US policy on Cuba because the old approach of open hostility and economic sanctions had failed to force through major changes on the island and it was time to try something new.
Since then, he has relaxed some restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
At their 80-minute meeting on Saturday, Obama and Castro sat side by side in polished, wooden chairs in a small conference room. The mood cordial but businesslike.
Both wore dark suits and each nodded and smiled at some of the comments made by the other in brief statements to reporters before they began their talks.
Castro said he would continue to take steps toward normalizing relations with Washington, and was open to discussing human rights and other issues.
"So we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient. Some things we will agree on; others we will disagree," said the 83-year-old leader, who took over as president of Cuba in 2008 when his older brother, Fidel Castro, stepped aside because of ill health.
Raul Castro has already undertaken some market-style reforms to try to strengthen Cuba's economy but he is moving cautiously and he has made clear that he has no intention of allowing an end to communist rule.
The last time the leaders of the two countries held a substantive meeting was in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower was US president and Fulgencio Batista was the US-backed dictator in power in Havana. That meeting was also in Panama.