Obama and Castro arrive in Panama

Obama and Castro arrive in Panama as historic ministers’ talks raise hopes of deal

Obama and CastroHighest-level meeting in more than 50 years between both countries’ foreign ministers comes ahead of Summit of the Americas in Panama

Barack Obama and Raul Castro arrived in Panama late on Thursday ahead of a historic meeting between the leaders at the Summit of the Americas expected to accelerate the rapprochement between the Cold War rivals.

The pair will interact at a dinner tonight along with 33 other regional leaders, marking the first time presidents from the US and Cuba have shared a table since Mr Castro’s older brother Fidel led the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro arrives in Panama City (Reuters)

Even ahead of that encounter, the two countries’ foreign ministers met on Thursday night, in the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the earliest days of the Cuban revolution more than half a century ago.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s encounter with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was described as «very constructive» by the US State Department, raising hopes of an imminent deal on issues such as Cuba’s removal from the list of nations sponsoring terror, and the reopening of embassies.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez with US Secretary of State John Kerry (EPA)

The foreign ministers’ meeting marked the first time the two nations’ chief diplomats have met since a historic opening by President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, that was announced on Dec. 17 last year.

The closed-door meeting took place at a Panama City hotel on the eve of a Western Hemisphere summit where Obama and Castro will cross paths. The State Department had said earlier that Kerry and Rodriguez planned to meet on Thursday

Other regional leaders also are gathering in Panama City for the Summit of the Americas held every three years.

US President Barack Obama arrives in Panama City for a summit of leaders from the Americas (AFP/Getty)

An earlier statement from the US State Department said nothing about whether Obama may remove Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that is widely expected following the rapprochement between the two countries.

Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa

But a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide said on Thursday that the State Department had recommended that Obama remove Cuba from the list.

Obama’s decision to move toward restoring diplomatic ties marks a sea change in relations since the Cuban revolution, when U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island on Jan. 1, 1959, as Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries seized control.

Pro and anti Cuba demonstrators fighting outside the Cuban Embassy in Panama City on Wednesday (AFP)

John Foster Dulles and Gonzalo Guell were the last US and Cuban foreign ministers to hold a formal meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 1958, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The highest-level meeting after the revolution took place in April 1959, between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Fidel Castro, who had become his country’s prime minister in early 1959. Relations between the United States and Cuba rapidly deteriorated soon after.

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