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Foreign policy

Obama, Raul Castro shake hands ahead of expected summit sitdown

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shared small talk and several handshakes on Friday night ahead of the Summit of the Americas' opening ceremonies. The small gesture has big implications; officials expect the pair to sit down and discuss improving diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba on Saturday. Such a meeting would be the highest-level U.S.-Cuba talks since Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro met in April 1959.

Obama championed the move toward normalized relations in a speech to civil society groups, including Cuban dissidents.

"As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people," he told the gathering. "Not because it is imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversations among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity."

The Associated Press notes that opening embassies in Washington and Havana would jumpstart a new diplomatic relationship, but that the U.S. and Cuba are still negotiating toward such a step. And White House officials declined to comment on the status of a State Department recommendation to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state terror sponsors — a key point for Castro.