President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met on Tuesday for a bilateral meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in what is seen as another step in strengthening cooperation between the two nations.
The two leaders began their meeting with smiles and a handshake before starting their private talks and did not take any questions from reporters. Obama was joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
In his remarks at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Castro was stern in his call for the U.S. to lift its embargo against his country.
Castro also demanded that the U.S. return what he called the “illegally occupied” territory that houses the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, end unauthorized radio and television broadcasts into the country and compensate Cubans for “the human and economic damage they still endure.”
The White House has said in the past that as the administration works to close Guantanamo Bay, they have no plans to relinquish the site.
An administration official on Tuesday also said that Castro’s comments underscore that the two nations will have disagreements as they pursue a new relationship, citing the administration’s calls for improvements of human rights in Cuba.
At the United Nations on Saturday, Castro applauded the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. Castro also called the embargo, which only Congress can lift, an “economic, commercial and financial blockade” that brought hardship to the Cuban people and stood as the main obstacle to the country’s economic development.
Earlier this month the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce announced revisions to existing Cuban sanctions, the third set of regulatory changes since the President’s December announcement that the United States would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.
U.S. and Cuban officials have said Obama could visit the communist-run island next year, if the two countries progress sufficiently in normalization talks.
Castro last visited the United States more than a half century ago.
Allie Malloy, CNN