Barack Obama and Raul Castro meet, launch new era of U.S.-Cuba ties

Updated 1:47 AM EDT, Sun April 12, 2015
pkg acosta obama castro talk summit_00000128.jpg
pkg acosta obama castro talk summit_00000128.jpg
Now playing
02:59
Obama-Castro meeting begins new era
recorrido por guantanamo caimanera cuba pkg patrick oppmann_00023824.jpg
recorrido por guantanamo caimanera cuba pkg patrick oppmann_00023824.jpg
Now playing
03:14
Isolated Cuban town still calls US 'the enemy'
Shutterstock
Now playing
02:34
State Department pulls employees out of Cuba
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 20: A protester holds an American flag and a Cuban one as she joins with others opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement earlier in the week of  a change to the United States Cuba policy stand together at Jose Marti park on December 20, 2014 in Miami, Florida. President Obama announced a move toward normalizing the relationship with Cuba after a swap of prisoners took place.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 20: A protester holds an American flag and a Cuban one as she joins with others opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement earlier in the week of a change to the United States Cuba policy stand together at Jose Marti park on December 20, 2014 in Miami, Florida. President Obama announced a move toward normalizing the relationship with Cuba after a swap of prisoners took place. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:59
'Wet foot, dry foot' policy: one thing to know
cuba us reestablishes flgihts orig jpm_00011024.jpg
cuba us reestablishes flgihts orig jpm_00011024.jpg
Now playing
01:21
Headed to Cuba? What you need to know
cuba us diplomats recalled pkg oppmann _00023322.jpg
cuba us diplomats recalled pkg oppmann _00023322.jpg
Now playing
01:27
Is this audio injuring US staff in Cuba?
A Cuban flag flutters on top of a rock near the U.S. Embassy in Havana on August 13, 2015.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty
A Cuban flag flutters on top of a rock near the U.S. Embassy in Havana on August 13, 2015.
Now playing
02:07
US: More victims of sonic weapon in Cuba
The American flag flies at the U.S. Embassy following a ceremony August 14, 2015, in Havana.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
The American flag flies at the U.S. Embassy following a ceremony August 14, 2015, in Havana.
Now playing
03:43
US diplomats hit with possible acoustic attack
cuba wet foot dry foot oppmann walker holmes segment_00013223.jpg
WSVN
cuba wet foot dry foot oppmann walker holmes segment_00013223.jpg
Now playing
03:43
Cuban immigration policy ends
First U.S. cruise to Cuba_00002627.jpg
CNN
First U.S. cruise to Cuba_00002627.jpg
Now playing
01:29
First U.S.-to-Cuba cruise in decades sets sail
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks following meeting between the US and its European allies on the situations in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemenon March 13, 2016 in Paris.
GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks following meeting between the US and its European allies on the situations in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemenon March 13, 2016 in Paris.
Now playing
01:05
John Kerry: Carnival needs to not discriminate
cuba kiddie cabinet cuomo pkg_00000000.jpg
cuba kiddie cabinet cuomo pkg_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:54
Cuban kids discuss Obama visit
cuba cruise ship policy change carnival pkg_00005022.jpg
WSVN
cuba cruise ship policy change carnival pkg_00005022.jpg
Now playing
01:56
Cuba may ease ban on Cuban-born travelers
cuba travel destinations tips drone footage orig_00000224.jpg
cuba travel destinations tips drone footage orig_00000224.jpg
Now playing
01:55
Drone captures views of long-forbidden island
TWL Journeys Cuba_00002112.jpg
TWL Journeys Cuba_00002112.jpg
Now playing
01:15
What does Cuba look like today?
US Cuba history relations orig_00014029.jpg
US Cuba history relations orig_00014029.jpg
Now playing
02:02
U.S. & Cuba's complicated history in 2 mins
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance the tango with tango dancers during the State Dinner at the Centro Cultural Kirchner, Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance the tango with tango dancers during the State Dinner at the Centro Cultural Kirchner, Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Now playing
00:49
Obama and first lady dance the tango

Story highlights

"The Cold War has been over for a long time," President Obama says

The thaw in ties has dominated discussion at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

The top leaders from the United States and Cuba haven't met for substantive talks in more than 50 years

(CNN) —  

Ending a decades-long standstill in U.S.-Cuba relations, President Barack Obama met for an hour Saturday with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, the first time the two nations’ top leaders have sat down for substantive talks in more than 50 years.

The meeting in a small conference room on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas came as the two countries work to end the Cold War enmity that had led to a total freeze of diplomatic ties. And while both leaders proclaimed progress had been made, a key stumbling block – Cuba’s place on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terror – remained unresolved.

“This is obviously an historic meeting,” Obama said at the beginning of his session with Castro, claiming that decades of strain had done little to benefit either Cubans or citizens of the United States.

“It was time for us to try something new,” he said. ‎”We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future.”

Castro, who earlier in the day said he trusted Obama, acknowledged there would be difficult stumbling blocks as his nation works to repair ties with the United States. But he said those differences could be surmounted.

Raul Castro: ‘We need to be patient’

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Friday in Panama City, Panama.
Xinhua/Santiago Armas/LANDOV
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Friday in Panama City, Panama.

“We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient,” Castro said. “We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”

Speaking to reporters after his session with Castro, Obama said the meeting was “candid and fruitful” and could prove to be a “turning point” in his push to defrost ties with Cuba.

But he said he hadn’t yet decided whether to remove Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror, an outcome that had previously been expected during the summit. The State Department provided Obama with a review of the terror status this week.

“I want to make sure I have a chance to read it, study it before we announce publicly what the policy outcome is going to be,” Obama said. “But in terms of the overall direction of Cuba policy, I think there is a strong majority both in the United States and in Cuba that says our ability to engage, to open up commerce and travel and people to people exchanges is ultimately going to be good for Cuban people.”

On Friday night, Obama and Castro greeted each other courteously amid an explosion of camera flashes, shaking hands before dining at the inaugural session of the conference. The two sat at the same table but not directly next to one another.

Before Obama arrived in Panama on Wednesday, he spoke with Castro by phone, laying the groundwork for what will become a new era of relations between the neighboring countries.

No interest in old battles

“The Cold War has been over for a long time,” Obama said during opening remarks at the summit Saturday. “I’m not interested in having battles, frankly, that began before I was born.”

That exhortation, however, seemed to be lost on Castro himself, who expanded what was meant to be a six-minute speech into a 50-minute address lecturing leaders on Cuba’s revolution and giving a litany of perceived grievances to Cuba over the past 50 years.

But he distinguished Obama from past American presidents, saying he respected Obama’s move toward reconciliation.

“In my opinion, President Obama in an honest man,” Castro said through an interpreter. “I admire him, and I think his behavior has a lot to do with his humble background.”

A U.S. administration official said Castro’s long list of grievances was expected, despite the move toward diplomatic ties.

“(What’s) unique and new is what he said about the president,” the official said of Castro’s praise for Obama.

Ending a half century of strife