US, Cuban presidents hold face-to-face talks – Xinhua

PANAMA CITY, April 11 (Xinhua) — U.S. and Cuban presidents held first face-to-face talks in over half a century on Saturday in Panama City, capital of Panama, amid detente between the two nations.

The meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro was held on the sidelines of the seventh Summit of the Americas, in which Cuba participated for the first time.

This was the first substantive face-to-face meeting between the two leaders after they announced the start of normalizing relations in December 2014.

“It was time for us to try something new. We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future,” Obama told Castro at the beginning of this meeting.

Castro said everything could be on the table and that he was ready to discuss sensitive issues, stressing that the two nations have agreed to disagree.

In the plenary session earlier Saturday, Obama said that the cold war “has been over for a long time” at his opening remarks, adding “I’m not interested in having battles, frankly, that began before I was born.”

The two spoke by phone Wednesday before Obama left Washington, Jorge Leganoa, deputy director of Cuba’s state-run National Information Agency, said on Facebook.

The United States and Cuba held three rounds of talks on the process of restoring diplomatic relations during the past three months.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held a closed-door meeting Thursday night in Panama City, the highest-level meeting since 1961, in a run-up to the meeting of the two heads of state at the summit.

The U.S. State Department has completed the review of Cuba’s status and recommended the White House remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List.

Obama vowed to act quickly once he receives the department’s recommendation, which has been handed over to the White House.

Cuba was added to the blacklist in 1982 and its presence has been a major sticking point to the restoration of full diplomatic relations between two countries.

“I appreciate as a positive step his recent statement that he will quickly make a decision on Cuba’s inclusion on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, and on which it should never have been included,” Castro said Saturday in his speech at the summit.

U.S. half-a-century economic and trade embargo against the Caribbean island country is another stumbling block in the process of detente.

Cuba’s leader said the economic embargo continues despite the process of diplomatic reconciliation that officially began in December, and called for an end to the policy, which has crippled the island’s economy for more than 50 years.

Raul said that the economic, commercial and financial blockade is still being fully enforced against the island causing damage and shortage to the Cuban people, while it is the main obstacle to the development of Cuban economy.

The blockade violates international law and its extraterritorial reach affects the interests of other states, Raul said.

Obama have eased some restrictions with executive orders, but he still needs the Republican-Party-controlled Congress to completely lift the embargo, which is hard because of the opposition from Republican lawmakers.

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