UK & World News

  • 11 December 2013, 0:04

Obama And Castro Handshake At Mandela Tribute

Barack Obama has shaken hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

The handshake between the leaders of the two Cold War enemies came during a ceremony in Johannesburgthat is largely focused on MrMandela's legacy of reconciliation.

Mr Castro smiled as the US leader shook his hand on the way to the podium to pay tribute to the late South African president, a global symbol of peace.

It was an extremely rare gesture between the leaders of two nations that have been at loggerheads for more than half a century.US officials often have gone to great lengths to avoid having presidents meet Cuban leaders, even in passing.

It was Mr Obama who offered the handshake in a new sign of his willingness to reach out to US enemies, a US official told the AFP news agency.

However, the move angered Republicans, with Senator John McCain saying it was a mistake to "shake hands with somebody who is keeping Americans in prison".

"It gives Raul some propaganda, to continue to prop up his dictatorial, brutal regime, that's all," he said.

In Havana, the government website Cubadebate.cu ran a photograph of the moment with the caption: "Obama greets Raul: May this image be the beginning of the end of the US aggressions against Cuba".

The two nations have had only limited ties for half a century, most of it under the iron fist rule of Raul's brother,Fidel Castro.

The US maintains a five-decade-old embargo against the communist island nation, which Havana says has cost the economy $1.1tn.

Recently, the US and Cuba have taken small steps toward rapprochement.

The countries have reached agreements on cooperation on air and maritime rescue and on migratory issues. In 2011, Mr Obama eased restrictions on visas, remittances and travel.

Sky News Foreign Affairs Editor Tim Marshall noted Mr Obama had to walk past Mr Castro on his way to podium.

But he added: "The Americans will have pinpointed every single movement, every single second of Obama, from the moment he lands to the moment to he leaves.

"So they will have had the seating plan and so they did not take any steps to prevent it - and I think that does tell us that there is the possibility of a rapprochement between the two countries."

In 2009, Mr Obama made waves when he shook hands with the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a strident US critic, at the Summit of the Americas.

In September, the US leader spoke by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in the first such gesture since the 1979 revolution in the Islamic republic.

The ceremony in memory of MrMandela, who died on Thursday at age 95, gathered heads of state from around the world.

Mr Obama also shook hands with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has clashed with the US over alleged National Security Agency spying.

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