The leaders of the US and Cuba held their first formal meeting in more than half a century today, clearing the way for a normalization of relations that had seemed unthinkable to both Cubans and Americans for generations. In a small conference room in a Panama City convention center, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat side by side in a bid to inject fresh momentum into their months-old effort to restore diplomatic ties. Obama said he wanted to "turn the page" on old divisions, although he acknowledged that significant differences between the governments would remain. "I'm not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born," Obama says, the New York Times reports. "The Cold War has been over for a long time."
Castro told Obama he was ready to discuss sensitive issues including human rights and freedom of the press, maintaining that "everything can be on the table" and "we are willing to make progress in the way the president has described." But he also cautioned that the two countries also have "agreed to disagree." On that front, Obama acknowledged that Cuba would continue raising concerns about US policies. The remarkable gathering played out on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which this year included Cuba for the first time. It may also ease Obama's relations with Latin American countries that have long criticized the US for its anti-Cuba policies, the Times notes. The Obama-Castro encounter gained momentum last night with a handshake. (Read more President Obama stories.)