President Barack Obama greeted Cuban President Raul Castro Friday night with a handshake during their first encounter since 2013, the day before they were set to begin a historic meeting to discuss the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two nations.
An instagram video posted by Madeleine Garcia appears to show Obama and Castro shaking hands at the start of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Friday night, a highly symbolic gesture. The two leaders also shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013.
"At the Summit of the Americas this evening, President Obama and President Castro greeted each other and shook hands," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed. A White House official described the encounter as an "informal interaction, with no substantive conversation between the two."
Obama spoke with Castro, brother of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, for the first time in December as the push to mend ties with Cuba began, in hopes of ending five decades of icy relations. U.S. diplomatic moves have opened travel, led to the exchange of prisoners, and loosened regulations on some forms of trade and banking. Obama is expected to soon announce that the U.S. will remove Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, and has expressed a desire to reopen an embassy in Havana.
"We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we don't want to be imprisoned by the past," Obama said this week.
Following the handshake, Obama and Castro stood near each other while Panama’s national anthem was sung, separated by the presidents of Ecuador and El Salvador, AFP reported.