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Obama, Castro vow to pursue new future for US and Cuba

Obama, Castro vow to pursue new future for US and Cuba
BY JOSH LEDERMAN AND JIM KUHNHENN ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/11/2015 2:15 PM 04/11/2015 2:15 PM

PANAMA CITY
Barack Obama on Saturday declared his refusal to refight the
Cold War battles while Cuban President rallied to his
defense, absolving Obama of fault for the U.S. blockade in a stunning
reversal of more than 50 years of animosity between the United States
and Cuba.

“In my opinion, President Obama is an honest man,” Castro said — a
remarkable vote of confidence from the Cuban leader, who praised Obama’s
life and his “humble background.”

Turning the page on the longstanding U.S. policy of isolation, Castro
and Obama were expected to meet later Saturday on the sidelines of the
Summit of the Americas — the first substantial meeting between a U.S.
and Cuban president in more than five decades.

The flurry of diplomacy, which kicked off Friday evening with an
historic handshake between Obama and Castro, was aimed at injecting
fresh momentum into their months-old plan to restore normal relations
between their countries.

“The Cold War has been over for a long time,” Obama said. “And I’m not
interested in having battles frankly that started before I was born.”

Castro, in a meandering, nearly hour-long speech to the summit, ran
through an exhaustive history of perceived Cuban grievances against the
U.S. dating back more than a century — a vivid display of how raw
passions remain over American attempts to undermine Cuba’s government.

Then, in an abrupt about face, he apologized for letting his emotions
get the best of him. He said many U.S. presidents were at fault for that
troubled history — but that Obama isn’t one of them.

“I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the
revolution,” Castro said through a translator, noting that Obama wasn’t
even born when the U.S. began sanctioning the island nation. “I
apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”

Speaking just before Castro, Obama acknowledged that deep differences
between their countries would persist. Yet he said he was uninterested
in getting bogged down in ideology, instead casting the thaw in
relations as an opening to create “more opportunities and resources for
the Cuban people.”

“The United States will not be imprisoned by the past,” President Barack
Obama said. “We’re looking to the future.”

Yet the optimistic tone from the president wasn’t enough to offset the
skepticism of some Latin American leaders about U.S. intentions in the
region, including many who have sharply criticized recent U.S. sanctions
against Venezuelan officials.

Even President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, whose country is a close U.S.
partner, told the summit that such unilateral policies of isolation are
always counterproductive and ineffective. “For that reason we reject the
adoption of sanctions against ,” she said.

Raising the stakes even higher for the two leaders was mounting
speculation that Obama would use the occasion of the summit taking place
in Panama to announce his decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of
state sponsors of terrorism, a gesture that for Cuba holds both
practical and symbolic value.

The U.S. long ago stopped accusing Cuba of conducting terrorism, and
Obama has signaled that he’s ready to take Cuba off the list. Earlier in
the week he suggested an announcement was imminent when he revealed that
the State Department had completed its lengthy review of the designation.

Removal from the terror list is a top priority for Castro because it
would not only purge a stain on Cuba’s pride, but also ease its ability
to conduct simple financial transactions.

Yet Obama’s delay in delisting Cuba comes as the U.S. seeks concessions
of its own — namely, the easing of restrictions on American diplomats’
in Havana and better protections. Obama
said the U.S. would continue pressing Cuba on human rights even as he
called for Congress to lift the on the island nation 90 miles to
the south of Florida.

Obama was also to take questions from reporters before returning to
Washington.

A successful relaunch of U.S.-Cuba relations would form a cornerstone of
Obama’s foreign policy legacy. But it’s an endeavor he can’t undertake
alone: Only Congress can fully lift the onerous U.S. sanctions regime on
Cuba, and there are deep pockets of opposition in the U.S. to taking
that step.

Source: Obama, Castro vow to pursue new future for US and Cuba | Miami
Herald Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article18256871.html

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