For the first time in more than 60 years, a U.S. president has met with a Cuban president on U.S. soil. President Obama sat down with President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City today.
At Obama’s side were Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, in addition to other aides.
The two leaders have met before, but today’s meeting marks the first time the heads of state of both countries have met on U.S. soil since the Cuban revolution.
Besides discussing the recent visit of Pope Francis to both countries, “President Obama highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people,” the White House said in a statement.
It added: “The president also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.”
Following last December’s announcement to restore diplomatic ties between the two countries, the two leaders spoke by phone for roughly 45 minutes. The two spoke again in April in advance of their historic meeting during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. That meeting was the first time a U.S. president has ever sat down as part of a bilateral meeting with a Cuban president since the revolution.
The two leaders spoke two weeks ago, in advance of the Pope Francis‘ visit to Cuba and the United States, and following the Obama administration announcement of new regulatory changes, which allowed for more travel and U.S. business on the island.
“The meeting between Castro and Obama sustains the momentum of the historic rapprochement they are pursuing,” Peter Kornbluh, author of “Back Channel to Cuba,” told ABC News. “With two meetings and three phone conversations in the last nine months, they are actually building a relationship that will benefit their respective nations.”
Four months after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro came to the United States on the invitation from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. President Eisenhower avoided the Cuban revolutionary leader; instead Castro met with then-Vice President Richard Nixon.
The visit by Raul Castro to New York also marks his first time speaking at the U.S. General Assembly, and his first visit to the United States since 1959.
His brother, former President Fidel Castro, spoke at the UNGA a handful of times, the first was in 1960 and the last in 2000. His 1960 speech was timed at a record-breaking 4.5 hours.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote for the 24th time to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Of the 193-nation assembly, last year 188 countries voted for the nonbinding resolution, with only the United States and Israel voting against it.