President Obama, Raul Castro To Share Face Time At Americas Summit

Apr 10, 2015
Originally published on April 10, 2015 7:30 pm

The leaders of all 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere gather for the first time ever this week at the Summit of the Americas. It will be the first to include Cuba, and the first meeting of President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, since the U.S. and Cuba decided to normalize relations.

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They've spoken by phone, and now we're waiting to hear about a face-to-face meeting. I'm talking about President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Today, the White House announced that that the two leaders talked on the phone on Wednesday. That's only the second time that's happened. And now they're both in Panama for the Summit of the Americas. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Panama City to cover that summit, and she joins us now. Carrie, welcome.


BLOCK: And why don't we start with the anticipated meeting between President Obama and President Castro. It's the first time that Cuba has been invited to this conference since it started two decades ago. And we mentioned that phone call on Wednesday. What did the two leaders talk about?

KAHN: Well, the White House had a briefing, and they were a bit vague on exactly what was said. The two leaders did talk about the ongoing warming, reestablishing of diplomatic relations and also about meeting up at the summit. The call was on Wednesday before they both arrived here. And they just - they arrived within minutes of each other, but they didn't meet in the airport. A national security adviser says this is just part of the continuing re-engagement with Cuba. And, actually, Secretary of State Kerry met with his counterpart last night here in Panama in a very lengthy meeting. And that was the first time in 50 years such high-level talks have been held between the two countries. Tomorrow is the big meet and greet. That's what they say there. It's highly anticipated here. What will happen when the two see each other? They'll be in the same room tonight for dinner and the official summit photo, but the two shaking hands and talking will definitely be the photo op of the conference.

BLOCK: President Obama did meet today with all of the Central American leaders. Carrie, what are the key issues there?

KAHN: It's definitely a troubling time in Central America with the rising violence and the migration crisis, as you remember, last year when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children made that trek north to the U.S. The Obama administration has asked Congress for a billion dollars for the region. That would be for economic projects, energy and mostly for beefing up security and policing issues. It wasn't a long meeting, but it's an important matter for the administration, especially since the so-called migration season. It's - the weather's getting warmer. It's beginning again, and there are signs that people are on the move, and the administration is hoping to avoid a repeat of the huge numbers that we saw of migrants at the U.S. southern border last year.

BLOCK: And then there is Venezuela. There's been a great deal of tension between the two countries. The Obama administration placed sanctions on seven of Venezuela's top leaders. Will there be a meeting between President Obama and the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro?

KAHN: There is no formal meeting, but Nicolas Maduro has said that he will hand President Obama personally petitions asking for the sanctions to be lifted. He's quite adamant about making a scene here at the summit. He arrived here in Panama just a little while ago and, at the airport, made some very strong anti-American comments already, and then went immediately to a memorial site that's here in Panama where the U.S. invasion took place. And so he was waving his fist in a little more anti-American rhetoric, so I'm sure we'll hear more from him later.

BLOCK: Tomorrow is the big business day for the summit. What's on the agenda?

KAHN: It is the big sessions between the presidents. Hopefully, there's supposed to be some sort of resolution, but with all this politics in the background, many say there's not a good chance of a unifying pronouncement. But we'll have to see what happens tomorrow when the bulk of the summit takes place.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Carrie Kahn, covering the Summit of the Americas in Panama City. Carrie, thanks.

KAHN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.