Obama, Castro meet at UN as US-Cuban relations thaw

United Nations, Sep 30 (IANS) Amid thawing relations, US President Barack Obama held talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro at the UN, the first meeting between the two on American soil in more than five decades.

The presidents discussed recent advances in relations between the two countries, as well as additional steps both the governments can take to deepen bilateral cooperation, Xinhua news agency quoted the White House as saying in a statement.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Obama highlighted US regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to do business with Cuba, the statement said.

Earlier this month, the US announced new amendments to sanctions on Cuba, further easing travel and business restrictions on the island country.

Obama welcomed the progress made in establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries in July, and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of US regulatory changes.

In addition, the US president highlighted steps Washington intended to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated US support for human rights in Cuba.

On Tuesday, Obama and Castro briefly shook hands in a small meeting room at the UN before starting their closed-door talks.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Obama said he is “confident” that US Congress will “inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore”.

“Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve,” Obama said.

Castro, on the other hand, demanded in his speech on Monday an end to the trade embargo, the return of the land used as the Guantanamo Bay military base and compensation for decades of economic damages.

Raul also criticised the US for a history of “wars of aggression and interference in the internal affairs of the states, the ousting of sovereign governments by force, the so-called ‘soft coups’ and the recolonisation of territories.”

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