Castro and Clinton Shake Hands at U.N. Summit

ByABC News
September 8, 2000, 2:30 AM

N E W   Y O R K, Sept. 8 -- There was a handshake after all.

Cuban President Fidel Castro spoke for the first time with his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton and shook his hand in a crush of U.N. dignitaries on Thursday.

As I understand it, it was a chance encounter that Mr. Castro initiated, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. They talked for a couple of minutes and there was no substance. It was just a cordial conversation but no substance, as I understand it.

Diplomats and other observers believed it was also the first time since Castro, 74, took power in 1959 that the communist leader had shaken the hand of an American president.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart had earlier said the two presidents did exchange a few words, but denied they shook hands. However, the White House later confirmed that a handshake had indeed taken place.

Castro and Clinton had attended a lunch for the roughly 150world leaders taking part in the summit and were making theirway to a conference room for a group photograph when theencounter took place.

Some anti-Castro activists were outraged by the handshake.

He should check his hands because Mr. Castros are bloodied, Mariela Ferretti, spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation, told the New York Daily News. She called the handshake and chit-chat another exercise in poor judgment on the part of Mr. Clinton.

Castro Excluded From Gala

The Cuban dictator was excluded from President Clintons reception for world leaders Thursday night.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said Castro was among a number of leaders who were not invited to a reception hosted by Clinton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Thursday night. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba and maintains economic sanctions against Castros government.

Not every participant in the Millennium Summit was invited, Crowley said. There are countries around the world that we have serious concerns about such as their support for terrorism. And we didnt think it was appropriate to invite them to a reception hosted by the president of the United States.