JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The White House says today's handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro wasn't planned in advance.
Obama shook hands with Castro and other world leaders as he made his way to the podium to speak at today's memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
A spokesman says it was simply an exchange of greetings. It comes as the U.S. and Cuba have recently taken small steps toward political reconciliation.
Despite today's handshake, Obama still offered an implicit criticism of governments like Cuba's in his remarks moments later, when he said too many people embrace Mandela's legacy of racial reconciliation but passionately resist economic and other reforms.
He said, "There are too many people who claim solidarity" with the struggles of Mandela, but "do not tolerate dissent from their own people."
More than a half-century after the U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba, any contact between American and Cuban leaders are exceedingly rare. U.S. officials have often gone to great lengths to avoid having presidents meet Cuban leaders, even in passing.
148-c-20-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent)-"with his enemies"-AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports President Obama has been mingling with other world leaders during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. (10 Dec 2013)
<<CUT *148 (12/10/13)££ 00:20 "with his enemies"
149-c-21-(Mark Smith, AP White House correspondent)-"U.S. embargo remains"-AP White House Correspondent Mark Smith reports the president has shaken hands for the first time with Cuba's leader. (10 Dec 2013)
<<CUT *149 (12/10/13)££ 00:21 "U.S. embargo remains"
APPHOTO LON853: In this image from TV, U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, in the rain for a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. The handshake between the leaders of the two Cold War enemies came during a ceremony that's focused on Mandela's legacy of reconciliation. Hundreds of foreign dignitaries and world heads of states gather Tuesday with thousands of South African people to celebrate the life, and mark the death, of Nelson Mandela who has become a global symbol of reconciliation. (AP Photo/SABC Pool) (10 Dec 2013)
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