Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Handshake



Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, shakes hands and speaks with President Barack Obama at the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Friday, April 17, 2009.

It's a baby-step in diplomatic relations. But compared to the last guy in the White House eagerly backing--if not helping engineer--a coup attempt against the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, this is a decided improvement. I bet this time, Chavez wasn't smelling sulfur and brimstone.

HOPE I can believe in.

More after the fold...



As reported in the AP:

Obama, Chavez shake hands at Americas Summit

Fri Apr 17

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's socialist leader, met Friday and shook hands on the sidelines of a summit of their hemisphere's democracies.

Obama walked across a hotel meeting room to meet Chavez for the first time, said a senior U.S. administration official who witnessed it and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the event. The official said Obama initiated the encounter.

Chavez has been a fierce critic of the United States during President George W. Bush's tenure.

"It was very, very short," the official said of Friday's meeting. "The president shook his hand, smiled and then went back to his position in the line."

The encounter comes as Obama softens U.S. policy against Cuba, a Chavez ally.

Asked later about the meeting, Obama elicited laughter from reporters with a brief response: "I said, 'Como estas?'"

That's the familiar form of Spanish for "How are you?"

Chavez was more forthcoming with reporters.

"We shook each other's hands like gentlemen, and it was predictable this would happen," Chavez said.

"We don't have any complexes that would prevent us from extending our hands to each other. I'm grateful for his gesture."

Photos released by the Venezuelan government show the two smiling and Obama touching Chavez on the shoulder. Other photos show them with clenched hands in the room next to the main summit ballroom while the heads of state and government were waiting in line to enter the opening ceremony.

The Venezuelan presidency also said Obama initiated the handshake and quoted Chavez as telling Obama he hopes for better relations between their nations.

Chavez told reporters he had a simple message in English for Obama: "I want to be your friend."

Obama's comments were limited to saying that he wanted to introduce himself to Chavez, the U.S. official said. The Obama official would not comment on what Chavez told the U.S. president.

But when a reporter asked if the Venezuelan account of what happened was accurate, the Obama official said: "I wouldn't dispute that."

As recently as last week, Chavez expressed a desire to "reset" relations with Washington.


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