- A policy of engagement – NewsRescue
PANAMA — President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba met here Saturday in the first face-to-face discussion between the leaders of the two countries in a half-century.
Seated beside Mr. Castro in a small room in the convention center downtown where the Summit of the Americas was being held, Mr. Obama called it a “historic meeting.”
“Our governments will continue to have differences,” he said at a news conference wrapping up the summit meeting. “At the same time, we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests.”
He called his meeting with Mr. Castro “candid and fruitful,” and said work would continue on the goal he announced
Still, Mr. Obama said crucial steps in the normalization process would not be completed rapidly. He stopped short of announcing a final decision, now widely expected, to remove Cuba from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying he wanted to study it further.
For now, Mr. Obama argued, the best way to address the United States’ disagreements with Cuba and other countries in the hemisphere on such issues as human rights and democracy was by engaging with them.
“So often, when we insert ourselves in ways that go beyond persuasion, it’s counterproductive, it backfires,” he said, adding that was “why countries keep on trying to use us as an excuse for their own governance failures.”
“Let’s take away the excuse,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Castro said he wanted a new beginning with the United States despite the two countries’ “long and complicated history.” He added that “we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient — very patient.”
The meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas was an important step for Mr. Obama as he seeks to ease tensions with Cuba and defuse a generations-old dispute that has also affected relations with the other countries of the region.