25-09-2021 09:01 AM Jerusalem Timing

Obama, Castro Hail ’New Day’ for US-Cuba Relations

Obama, Castro Hail ’New Day’ for US-Cuba Relations

Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a "new day" for the long bitterly divided neighbors.

Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a "new day" for the long bitterly divided neighbors.

Castro acknowledged there were still "profound" differences over Cuba's human rights situation and the decades-old, crippling US economic embargo on the island.Obama in Cuba

In a sometimes comic, sometimes tetchy press conference -- which in an extremely rare move was carried live on Cuban television -- Castro refused that his government holds political prisoners.

"After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if we have those political prisoners, they will all be released before the night ends," he said in a sarcasm-laden response to a US journalist's question.

However, the mere fact that the joint press conference took place in Havana's Palace of the Revolution -- after the leaders met for more than two hours -- demonstrated how much has changed.

Obama, the first US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, hailed a "new day" -- a "nuevo dia," as he said -- in relations between the former Cold War foes.

On Tuesday, Obama will take that message directly to Cubans, in a speech that is expected to be broadcast live across the country.

"The speech is very important because it's the one chance on this visit to really step back and just speak directly to the Cuban people," said Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes.

Rhodes signaled that Obama will touch on past relations, opportunities presented by the current opening and the possibilities of the future.

Obama offered a preview of that message after his talks with Castro, saying the days of heavy-handed US intervention in the island's affairs were over.

"Cuba's destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation," he vowed.

The US leader also said, without making any promises on timing, that "the embargo is going to end."