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President Obama, Raul Castro Shake Hands, Chat At Summit Of The Americas

President Obama talks with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro before Friday's inauguration of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City.
Reuters /Landov
President Obama talks with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro before Friday's inauguration of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Update, 10:30 p.m. ET: President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, exchanged greetings and a friendly handshake Friday night at the Summit of the Americas, the Associated Press reports — the first such moment in decades.

"The White House said the interaction was informal and said they didn't engage in substantive conversation. The two men were expected to speak further Saturday — the first extended conversation between the leaders of the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years."

Original Post:

On Wednesday, President Obama spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro by phone, the White House has confirmed. There's no word on how long the conversation between Castro and Obama lasted — but it represents only the second time in the past 50 years that the heads of the U.S. and Cuba are known to have spoken to each other.

Later in the afternoon, Ben Rhodes, the White House's deputy national security adviser, said Obama and Castro "interaction" would happen on Saturday.

As relations between the two countries begin to thaw, many expect Obama and Castro to meet in person today in Panama, where Obama is visiting for the Summit of the Americas.

"This is the first time Cuba has been invited to the two-decade-old conference," NPR's Carrie Kahn reports. "The warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba has helped President Obama's standing in Latin America, but the administration's recent sanctioning of several top Venezuelan officials has complicated Obama's appearance at the summit."

The U.S. State Department on Thursday recommended taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, according to Congressional sources.

The president "now has to make a decision on the recommendation," as Eyder reported last night. "If Obama accepts it, he has to notify Congress and Cuba would be removed from the list 45 days later.

In another sign of budding ties between the two nations, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Cuban counterpart, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, in Panama City Thursday.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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