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Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Castro

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands on Friday at a summit in Panama, a symbolically charged gesture as the pair seek to restore ties between two Cold War foes.

Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Castro. Credit: PA

"At the Summit of the Americas this evening, President Obama and President Castro greeted each other and shook hands," said Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council Spokesperson.

A White House official said however the pair did not have a substantive conversation. The two are expected to meet on Saturday.

Obama and Castro in phone call ahead of symbolic meeting

US President Barack Obama has already spoken with Cuban President Raul Castro ahead of their symbolic meeting in Panama.

A Cuban official confirmed the two leaders shared a phone call on Wednesday as the countries work to mend once bitter Cold War relations.

President Obama met Raul Castro briefly at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in December 2013. Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

Mr Obama and Mr Castro, who have only previously met briefly and informally, will share the same stage with other leaders at a regional summit in Panama later today.

It is the first time a US president has held a formal meeting with a Cuban leader since Mr Castro's older brother Fidel Castro toppled US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a 1959 revolution.


Obama-Castro handshake 'not a pre-planned encounter'

Obama shakes the hand of Castro

In response to the historic handshake between Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro, the US National Security Council has said: "This wasn't a pre-planned encounter. Above all else, today is about honouring Nelson Mandela and that was the President's singular focus at the memorial service.

"We appreciate that people from all over the world are participating in this ceremony."


Obama and Raul Castro to speak at Mandela's memorial

US President Barack Obama will lead tributes from world leaders to Nelson Mandela tomorrow at the memorial service in Johannesburg.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will lead the international tributes, followed by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma from the African Union.

Obama will begin tributes from world leaders, and Raul Castro will end them. Credit: ITV News

Obama will be followed by Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, China's Vice-President Li Yuanchao, Namibia's President Hifikepunye Pohamba, India's President Pranab Mukherjee and the last international tribute will come from President Raul Castro.

Cuban parliament names vice president and possible successor

In a surprise move, Cuba's new parliament has named a rising young star as Raul Castro's first vice president.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, a member of the political bureau who rose through the party ranks in the provinces to become the most visible possible successor to Castro.

Diaz-Canel would succeed Castro if the 81-year-old cannot serve his full term.

Raul Castro: This will be my last term

Cuba's President Raul Castro Credit: REUTERS/Andres Stapff

Cuba's President Raul Castro has announced that he will stand down from office in 2018 bringing to an end almost 60 years of rule under the family dynasty.

Raul took over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008, but has spoken about limiting the number of terms for senior government officials including the presidency.

Castro made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new parliament.

He starts his second term immediately. In 2018, Castro will be 86.

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