HAVANA, Cuba, Aug. 7, 2010 -- Former Cuban President Fidel Castro warned today of imminent nuclear war and said the world's fate was in President Barack Obama's hands, as he addressed the Cuban National Assembly for the first time since taking ill four years ago.
Castro said the most recent U.N. sanctions on Iran will trigger a nuclear holocaust if the United States inspects the country's ships come September, as called for in the June resolution.
Only world pressure on Obama can avert the conflagration that will bring all major economies to a standstill, he said.
"In this critical situation President Barack Obama is the one who will have to give the order for this so-often announced and proclaimed attack," Castro said, calling on world leaders to weigh in with the U.S. president before it's too late.
Castro, who turns 84 next week, wore a green military shirt, spoke in a clear and strong voice, though aides had to help him walk slowly on and off the stage.
The televised appearance before parliament, the diplomatic corps and journalists marked the first time Cubans and the world had a live look at the bearded, iconic figure since he underwent surgery in July 2006 and then suffered complications.
The speech lasted 11 minutes, not hours, and after an hour of back and forth with deputies he tired and the special session ended.
Since his illness, Castro had met with occasional guests, written numerous essays mainly on international affairs and had only been seen in occasional photographs and video clips until last month.
The leader of Cuba's revolution, who retains his parliament seat and the post of first secretary of the Communist Party, emerged in July from seclusion, pitching his dire news to small gatherings of Cuban economists, diplomats, war veterans, intellectuals and artists, his activities taped and then repeatedly broadcast by state-run media.
Fidel Castro's Warnings Greeted With Skepticism
"Does anyone believe the powerful empire will back away from the sanctions' demand that Iranian merchant vessels be inspected?" Castro asked on Saturday.
"Does anyone think the Iranians, a people with a culture of thousands of years and which is much more intertwined with death than ours, will lack the courage we have shown in resisting the demands of the United States?" he continued, predicting Iran would respond to inspections by sinking the U.S. fleet and events would then quickly spiral out of control.
The June sanctions call for Iranian ships to be searched if the country does not comply in 90 days with world demands it come clean concerning its nuclear activities.
"I doubt Fidel believes what he is saying. He is being dramatic, trying to stay relevant," a European diplomat quipped.
"The question we all have is what this means in terms of Cuba's domestic politics," he added.
Indeed, ever since Castro took ill and then resigned the presidency in favour of his brother Raul, there has been confusion and speculation over who is really calling the shots in Havana and if the slow progress of Raul Castro's efforts to reform the state-dominated economy was due to his brother's opposition.
Fideln Castro's sudden reappearance and the leadership's penchant for secrecy have only added to the fog.
Some foreign experts and Cubans believe Castro's re-emergence into public view signals he wants a bigger role in Cuba's political life, while others say Castro is genuinely concerned over international tensions in the Persian Gulf and the Korean Peninsula.
Few Cubans believe Castro is in any condition to take back the reigns of power from his 79-year-old brother, though they have no doubt he remains extraordinarily influential behind the scenes.
"I'm here but I'm not here," the doorman at a local restaurant said. "He knows better, that Obama will not nuke anyone. He just wants the limelight as always and a chance to hit the United States and stop another war. Fidel loves television."