PANAMA CITY — US President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro will have a historic face-to-face encounter at the Summit of the Americas this week, breaking the ice after decades of glacial relations.
The image of US and Cuban presidents sitting across from each other at the 35-nation summit for the first time after decades of Cold War-era animosity will be the highlight of the gathering in Panama on Friday and Saturday.
While the meeting will mark a major milestone – no Cuban leader has attended a Summit of the Americas – the two sides have yet to reopen embassies and lingering differences have been evident at negotiations that started in January.
Cuba's inclusion on a list of state sponsors of terrorism has been a major sticking point in negotiations to restore full diplomatic ties, which were downgraded back in 1961.
The White House indicated this week that the State Department was in the "final stages" of deciding whether to recommend Havana's removal from the list.
Congress would then have 45 days to decide whether to override Obama's decision.
"We're trying to get it done quickly," a US State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
In another sign of warming ties, the US State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry could meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on the sidelines of the summit. — AFP