US President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro will have an opportunity for an historic face-to-face meeting at the Summit of the Americas this week, a senior White House official told AFP Monday.
“There will be time for the leaders of Cuba and the United States to meet,” said Ricardo Zuniga, the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. “There will be some type of interaction.”
Both Obama and Castro are attending the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which starts on Friday.
Zuniga — a top Obama aide who is credited with helping thaw tensions that had lingered long after the end of the Cold War — described Communist Cuba’s participation, after years of bad blood, as “historic.”
In December 2013, after five decades of bilateral antagonism Obama and Castro shook hands briefly at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesburg.
A year later, Castro and Obama spoke by telephone, as the US leader announced they would seek to restore full diplomatic ties, including plans to re-open the US embassy in Havana.
But the summit in Panama could see the first substantive meeting since John F. Kennedy was president a half century ago.
Still, Zuniga played down suggestions of a formal bilateral sit-down — which would thrash out points of contention between the two former foes.
“The only bilateral meeting that we have scheduled during the summit is between President Obama and President (Juan Carlos) Varela of Panama.”