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.