Obama-Castro handshake ‘not planned’

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US President Barack Obama (L) greets Cuban President Raul Castro before giving his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at the First National Bank soccer stadium in Johannesburg. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Washington - President Barack Obama's handshake with Cuba's President Raul Castro Tuesday at a memorial service for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela was not “pre-planned,” a US official said.

“This wasn't a pre-planned encounter,” a White House official said. “Above all else, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela, and that was the president's singular focus at the memorial service. We appreciate that people from all over the world are participating in this ceremony.”

The handshake dominated news of the ceremony in memory of Mandela at a stadium in Soweto.

Obama offered the handshake before taking the stage to eulogize Mandela, but minutes later, made a clear swipe at states like Cuba, saying those who proclaim Mandela's legacy must honor its meaning by easing curbs on freedom.

In Cuba, a government website saw the gesture as a hopeful sign of possible “beginning of the end of the US aggressions.”

The two countries have been bitter antagonists for more than 50 years.


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