US, Cuban leaders hold first meeting in half-century

The presidents of the United States and Cuba have held unprecedented face-to-face talks in Panama, the first sitdown between the leaders of the two countries since 1956.

The landmark meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was held between President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro on Saturday in Panama City on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, amid the Obama administration’s efforts to restore ties with the Latin American country.

Obama thanked Castro for his “spirit of openness and courtesy” during their talks, while Castro emphasized that the bilateral negotiations will require patience.

“Over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries,” the US president said.

“We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient,” Castro said. “We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”

“This is obviously a historic meeting,” said Obama, adding that, after five decades of US policies that had not worked, “it was time for us to try something new.”

“We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future,” he said.

After Obama spoke, the two leaders stood up and shook hands.

US President Barack Obama (right) and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (AFP photo)

On Friday night, Obama and Castro “greeted each other and shook hands” at the historic 35-nation Summit of the Americas, at a dinner ceremony.

Obama had earlier spoken by phone with Castro before heading to Panama. They discussed the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Havana, and the summit on Wednesday by telephone.

The two leaders briefly met once before, when they shook hands at the funeral of South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

Obama told a forum of Latin American civil society members in Panama City on Friday, hours before the start of the summit that the US will no longer interfere in Latin America.

“The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity — those days are passed,” he said.

Cuban President Raul Castro (L, middle row) and US President Barack Obama (R, middle row) are pictured with other leaders during the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention Center in Panama City on April 10, 2015.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and placed an official embargo against the country in 1962.

The two countries became ideological foes soon after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power and their ties remained hostile even after the end of the Cold War.

On December 17, 2014, Obama announced that the US would start talks with Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in American foreign policy towards the communist country in over 50 years.

By Press TV