President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have met on
the fringes of the Summit of the Americas, the first formal talks
between the two countries' leaders in half a century.
Mr Obama described the historic thaw in US-Cuba relations as a
"turning point".This is their first full meeting since the
thaw began in December. Mr Castro has called for the lifting of the
US economic blockade on Cuba, in place since 1959.
Obama said that it was time to "try something new" and that
it was important for the US to engage more directly with the Cuban
government and the Cuban people.
added that over time it would be possible to "turn the page"
on old divisions but he acknowledged that there were still
significant differences. "We have both concluded that we can
disagree with a spirit of respect and civility."
Obama said that immediate tasks include normalising diplomatic
relationships between the two countries and opening a US embassy in
Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington DC.
Castro said that he was ready to talk about sensitive issues but that
patience would be needed. "We are willing to make progress in
the way the president has described," he said. Latin American
and Caribbean leaders at the summit in Panama welcomed the
President Dilma Rousseff hailed it as a courageous effort to end the
last vestiges of the Cold War, which she said had caused great damage
in the hemisphere. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of
Argentina gave the main credit to Cuba, saying it had fought with
unprecedented dignity against the US blockade.(FM).