Sorry, but I don’t want communism to be normal in this world.
PANAMA CITY, Panama — President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba shook hands here on Friday night, and American officials said they would hold discussions on Saturday during a gathering of regional leaders, in the first full-fledged meeting between presidents of the United States and Cuba in more than a half-century.
The expected encounter was not on Mr. Obama’s official schedule, but it held deep significance for the regional meeting, as the president’s move to ease tensions with Cuba has overshadowed the official agenda.
Mr. Obama is nearing a decision on removing Cuba’s three-decade-old designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, citing progress in the effort to re-establish diplomatic ties after half a century of hostilities.
He spoke by telephone with Mr. Castro before the gathering, and on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Bruno Rodríguez, the Cuban foreign minister — the highest-level session between the governments in more than 50 years — to lay the groundwork for the advancing reconciliation. The much-anticipated handshake on Friday night came as leaders gathered for a welcome dinner, where Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro were seated at the same table, separated by two other people.
Before the official start of the summit meeting, Mr. Obama spoke at a civil society forum. “As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences government-to-government with Cuba on many issues, just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m here to say that when we do speak out, we’re going to do so because the United States of America does believe, and will always stand for, a certain set of universal values.”
The president rushed through a packed schedule on Friday as the summit meeting got underway, beginning his day with a tour of the Panama Canal.
At a forum with business executives Mr. Obama promoted a $1 billion investment package he has proposed for Central America in an effort to address the causes of the surge of immigrants across America’s southern border last summer. “The more we see our economies as mutually dependent rather than a zero-sum game, I think the more successful all of us will be,” he said.
Read more: NY Times