Fw: Travel pool report #12 - full Obama and Castro meeting

From: Lee, Carol [mailto:xxx@email.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 11, 2015 03:51 PM
To: Allen, Jessica
Subject: Travel pool report #12 - full Obama and Castro meeting

Panama City, Panama
April 11, 2014

Presidents Obama and Castro met in the Chaquira Room at the ATLAPA Convention Center. It was spacious, airy, with very convention-center-like carpeting -blue with lime green geometrical shapes.

Each leader each sat in polished, wooden chairs, angled slightly toward each other. A small round table was in between them. It was set with a simple bouquet of three white roses. Mr. Castro had placed on the table a light brown leather notebook with a pen on top. Mr. Obama had placed a small piece of paper. They both wore dark suits. Mr. Castro wore a gray tie. Mr. Obama’s tie was blue.  Instead of American and Cuban flags in the background, as is customary, the backdrop was the Summit of the Americas 2015 in Panama signage. Each leader had an interpreter, sitting next to him.

As Mr. Obama spoke, his interpreter translated into Spanish. But Mr. Castro’s interpreter was leaned in and translating in his ear the entire time Mr. Obama spoke.

Four members of the U.S. delegations. On the U.S. side, in order, seated in separate chairs: National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and NSC Senior Director Ricardo Zuniga.

There were four on the Cuban side, including Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Josephina Vidal, a chief negotiator.

Mr. Castro smiled when Mr. Obama mentioned his passionate speech earlier in the day at the summit’s first plenary session. They stood and shook hands twice, at the conclusion of each other’s remarks.

In total, including the translations, they spoke for 12 minutes and 30 seconds. Mr. Obama spoke for about 7 minutes 30 seconds, while Mr. Castro spoke for a little over 4 minutes.

President Obama:

He began by saying: "This is obviously an historical meeting. The history between the United States and Cuba has been complicated. Over the years a lot of mistrust has developed. And over the course of the last several months there has been contact between the U.S. and Cuban government and in December” he and Mr. Castro announced significant changes to policies and relations between their two countries.

“I think that after 50 years of a policy that had not changed on the part of the United States it was my belief that it was time to try something new. … that it was important for us to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. … And as a consequence I think we are now in a position to move on a path toward the future and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult for our countries to communicate.”

Americans and Cubans have responded positively.

“I truly believe as more exchanges take place, more commerce and interactions resume between the United States and Cuba that the deep connections between the Cuban people and the American people will reflect itself in more positive and constructive relationships between our governments.”

“Obviously there are still going to be deep and significant differences between our two countries.”

“We will continue to try to lift up concerns around democracy and human rights,” he said. As you heard from Mr. Castro’s passionate speech this morning, “They will lift up concerns about U.S. policy as well.”

“But I think what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility and that over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

He said some of “our immediate tasks” include normalizing diplomatic relations and opening embassies in Havana and Washington “so that our diplomats are able to interact on a more regular basis.”

“So I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and the courtesy that he has shown during our interactions.”

“And I think if we can build on the spirit of mutual respect and candidness that over time we will see not just a transformation in the relationship between our two countries but a positive impact throughout the hemisphere and the region.”

“And President Castro earlier today spoke about the significant hardships the people of Cuba have undergone over many decades, “I can say with all sincerity that the essence of my policy is to do what I can to make sure that the people of Cuba are able to be prosperous and live in freedom and security and enjoy a connection with the world where their incredible talents and hard work can thrive.” (As he was saying the end of this sentence, a member of the Cuban press contingent’s cell phone rang.

After this last group of sentences was translated into Spanish, Messrs. Obama and Castro stood to shake hands.)

President Castro:

He began by addressing"Mr. President" and members of the press with a joke about long speeches.  "I do not want to abuse the time of President Obama"

"I think that what President Obama has just said is practically the same as we feel. ... including human rights, freedom of the press."

He said they had already shown our American friends that they are willing to discuss any issue, including those issues that I've mentioned and about many others.

"We could be persuaded of some things but of others we will not be persuaded. But when I say that I agree with everything the president has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences."

"Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the president has described. We can develop friendship between our two peoples. We shall continue advancing the meetings that are taking place in order to re-establish relations between our two countries. We shall open our embassies. We shall visit each other, have exchanges ... and all those matters that close neighbors can do."

"We are close neighbors and there are many things that we can have. So we are wiling to discuss everything but we need to be patient. Very patient. Some things we will agree on. Others we will disagree. The pace of life in the present moment in the world moves very fast. We might disagree on something today on which could agree tomorrow."

"And we hope that our personal assistants," he said, gesturing toward the U.S. and Cuban delegations. "We hope they will follow the instructions of both presidents. Thank you so much."

Pool has tried to listen to Mr. Castro's answer to Jim Avila's question about whether he thought he'd ever see this moment, but it was not picked up because of the shouting to get pool to exit.

Carol Lee

The Wall Street Journal

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