Raul Castro offers direct talks with Obama

Cuban President Raul Castro offered late Friday to enter talks with US President-elect Barack Obama, "without intermediaries." Castro said he hoped Obama could "do a great deal, could take positive steps."


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AFP - Communist Cuba's President Raul Castro has offered to talk directly "without intermediaries" and on equal terms with incoming US president Barack Obama, who has said he would consider direct dialogue.

"A gesture for a gesture. We are ready to do it whenever it may be, whenever they may decide, without intermediaries, directly, but we are in no rush, we are not desperate," Castro said on state television late Friday, a day after Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its revolution.

After years of economic embargo and hardline US efforts to isolate the island, Havana now faces rare potential for change with Obama, who has voiced willingness to engage world leaders the administration of President George W. Bush has sought to sideline.

Obama, who takes office January 20, could "do a great deal, could take positive steps," said Castro, 77, adding he did not expect him to change overall hostile US policy. "But I hope I am wrong about that," the Cuban president said.

"A president is coming in who has raised a lot of expectations in many parts of the world, hopes that are too high, I think."

But Castro allowed that a new US president "may be able to make more just ideas move forward, and may be able to stop the almost uninterrupted rule since the United States was created that almost every president has had his war or wars."

The Cuban president repeated his argument that US "carrot and stick diplomacy" was a dead end.

"That is over now, that was another era," said Raul Castro, who took over in July 2006 from his brother, iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro, now ailing and 82. Raul Castro officially took over the presidency in February.

"We will continue to wait patiently," Castro said. "That is incredible if with our Cuban temperament we learn to be patient. Well we've got it, and at least on this front, we have shown it to be true."

In his anniversary address Thursday, Castro said future leaders of the revolution must not be duped by the "siren songs of the enemy," as the Cuban government refers to the United States, which he said "will never cease to be aggressive, imposing and treacherous."

Communist Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its Revolution Thursday with traditional fanfare. But the country faced an uncertain future, with its iconic, ailing leader Fidel Castro withdrawn from power and the economy in dire straits.

Former US president John F. Kennedy declared the embargo in February 1962, before the Soviet missile crisis, which took the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The two nations, separated by just 90 miles (145 kilometers) of water, have remained bitter political foes.

A White House spokesman in Texas Wednesday said Washington "will continue to seek freedom" for the people of Cuba. He named no new steps or initiatives.

But Obama has promised to ease some rules limiting travel by and remittances from Cuban-Americans.

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