Obama, Castro Meet In 'Spirit Of Openness' President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shared a stage for the first time since the U.S. and Cuba began moving toward normalizing relations.

Obama, Castro Meet In 'Spirit Of Openness'

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For the first time in more than 50 years, the heads of state from the U.S. and Cuba met face-to-face. President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met for about an hour yesterday on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas. Obama said when it comes to Cuba, quote, "the United States will not be imprisoned by the past." NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: When the sit-down finally happened after months of behind the scenes negotiations, even the leaders seemed surprised. Obama and Castro spent part of their hour together talking about just how unlikely this meeting was after so many decades of mutual mistrust. It's obviously a complicated history, Obama says. But he notes most people in both countries support the diplomatic thaw.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After 50 years of the policy that had not changed on the part of the United States, it was my belief that it was time to try something different.

HORSLEY: Yesterday's historic handshake was a milestone. But there's a long road ahead. The two countries are busy negotiating details of reopening embassies and restoring diplomatic ties. Everything can be on the table, Castro says. Though, in some cases they'll agree to disagree.


PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: "No one should question that we have many differences," Castro says, "but we are willing to make progress. We can develop friendship between our two peoples." The Cuban leader spoke only briefly during the photo-op, noting that he and Obama had already listened to a lot of long speeches during a hemispheric summit meeting in Panama. One of those speeches was Castro's own.


CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: Leaders at the summit were allotted only eight minutes a piece for their remarks. But Castro argued he had been kept out of six previous summits, and he was determined to make up for lost time. For nearly an hour, he catalogued two centuries of alleged Yankee imperialism; from the Spanish-American war to the Bay of Pigs and beyond. Obama listened impassively, but argued nursing old grievances won't solve today's problems.


OBAMA: Now, the Cold War has been over for a long time. And I'm not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born.

HORSLEY: That didn't stop leaders of Venezuela, Argentina or Ecuador from joining Castro's anti-American chorus. Obama suggests those critics are simply using the U.S. as a scapegoat in an effort to mask domestic problems of their own.


OBAMA: American never makes a claim about being perfect. We do make a claim about being open to change.

HORSLEY: Obama points to the American Civil Rights Movement as an example of change brought about by those who challenged the government. That's one reason, he says, the U.S. will continue to defend those who challenge the government in Cuba. Still, Obama insists America is not in the business of regime change.


OBAMA: We have a point of view, and we won't be shy about expressing it. But I'm confident that the way to lift up the values that we care about is through persuasion.

HORSLEY: Governments of the two countries will continue to have deep differences, Obama says, but dealing with those differences face-to-face marks a turning point, not only in U.S.-Cuba relations, but for all of the Americas. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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