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'Our Governments Will Continue to Have Differences': Historic US-Cuba Talks Start

Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro outline different priorities in first face-to-face meeting of U.S. and Cuban leaders in 50 years

Cuban President Raúl Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands for the second time at the Summit of the Americas, marking the start of historic talks between the two countries on April 11, 2015. (Photo: AP)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro began talks in Panama on Saturday in the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the two nations in 50 years.

The historic event at the seventh Summit of the Americas, which Cuba was attending for the first time, was another step toward easing tensions between the U.S. and Cuba after a thawing of relations was announced last December.

Both leaders acknowledged that progress had been made during Saturday's meeting, but outlined different priorities.

"Our governments will continue to have differences," Obama said after the meeting. He added that some of the immediate goals were to open embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C., but stopped short of confirming whether he would remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.

However, during a speech earlier in the day, Castro made clear that Cuba's main concern was in the U.S. lifting the embargo against the country and returning Guantanamo Bay, which he said was illegally occupied by the U.S. military.

The Guardian reports:

The meeting between the two men followed an often heated plenary session in which Obama tried to focus attention on the possibilities of closer regional ties, while leftwing leaders lined up to remind the US of its past aggression and interference in the hemisphere.

Still, Castro said during his speech that Obama was not responsible for the misdeeds of previous presidents and expressed his respect for the U.S. leader. "In my opinion, Obama is an honest man," he said. "I admire him."

He added that he wanted a new beginning with the U.S. despite a "long and complicated history" between the two countries, and said "we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient—very patient."

Obama echoed that he looked forward to a "new chapter" with Cuba, adding that he was "not interested in having battles that started before I was born."

But current tensions with other countries in the region were another matter. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on Obama to lift an executive order declaring the country a threat to U.S. national security and imposing sanctions on seven officials in Caracas who were accused of human rights abuses. Maduro called the sanctions "threatening" and "dangerous."

"I respect Obama, but I do not trust him," Maduro said on Saturday. "We've never been against the U.S. We're anti-imperialist."

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