WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro will have an “interaction” when they attend next week’s Summit of the Americas in Panama, a U.S. official said Friday.
It will be the first between the two leaders since the historic rapprochement between Havana and Washington.
“Clearly President Obama knew when he made the decision to go to the summit, and he knew that Cuba had been invited to the summit, … that there would be an interaction,” U.S. State Department official Roberta Jacobson said at the Brookings Institution.
“The leaders are together a lot of the time. And so there will be an interaction with Raúl Castro,” she added, declining to speculate about the nature of any possible meeting between the two leaders.
But she added Obama’s only confirmed meeting was with Panama leader Juan Carlos Varela.
“None of the president’s meetings are scheduled other than his bilateral with President Varela as the host,” she said.
“So I don’t know exactly what kind of an interaction that will be. But they’ve obviously already spoken on the phone, … and there’s been a lot of interaction since then at a lower level.”
In separate remarks, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf expressed skepticism that the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations may lead to the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington before next week’s summit, which takes place on April 10-11.
Asked to give an assessment of the likelihood of embassies being opened before the summit, Harf replied: “It’s not a lot of time, let’s put it that way.”
The United States and Cuba have already held three rounds of talks since January on restoration of diplomatic relations and the reopening of their embassies.
Washington had initially targeted a reopening of the embassies in time for the Summit of the Americas.