- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2013

President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday at age 95.

The handshake between the leaders of the two Cold War adversaries came as Mr. Obama was greeting a line of world leaders attending the memorial in Johannesburg for South Africa’s first black president.

The U.S. and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations for more than 50 years, since the Cuban revolution turned its government into a communist regime led by Mr. Castro’s brother, Fidel.


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Mr. Obama in 2011 eased some of the economic and travel restrictions that had been enforced by former President George W. Bush, but relations between the two nations still are tense. For example, Cuba has been holding Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, in jail since 2009 on charges of attempting to destabilize the Cuban government.

Just last week, family and friends of the former U.S. government contractor urged Mr. Obama to secure his release.

“I am requesting that President Obama, the leader of this great nation, get personally involved and to do whatever it takes to bring Alan home,” said Mr. Gross’s wife, Judy, at a vigil outside the White House. “Mr. President, please don’t leave Alan to die in Cuba.”

Mr. Gross was arrested while working on a U.S. Agency for International Development project to increase Internet access for small Jewish communities in Cuba. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state.”

Mr. Obama’s handshake with Mr. Castro was not the first between U.S.-Cuban leaders. In 2000, at the United Nations, former President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro, although Mr. Clinton denied it at first and no picture of the handshake exists.

Mr. Obama also shook hands with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who canceled a state dinner at the White House over her anger with revelations that the National Security Agency had spied on her.