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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Clinton shook Castro's hand
Historic handshake: Castro raises his hand during lunch in the company of Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze
Historic handshake: Castro made the approach
The United States has confirmed that President Bill Clinton and the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, shook hands and exchanged a few words after a lunch during the UN's Millennium Summit in New York.

The White House originally denied that a handshake had taken place, but later admitted it had occurred.

The encounter on Wednesday is understood to be the first time a US president has ever shaken hands with the Cuban leader. There is no picture of the moment.

The US maintains a trade embargo against Cuba, and relations between the two countries have been under increased strain this year because of the custody dispute over the shipwrecked Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez.

Close encounter

The handshake occurred as the two leaders were making their way from a lunch towards a conference room, where they were due to pose for a group photograph.

Hand of fate: Bill Clinton found himself at Castro's side
Bill Clinton found himself at Castro's side

The White House says Fidel Castro approached Bill Clinton.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters: "As I understand it, it was a chance encounter that Mr Castro initiated.

"They talked for a couple of minutes and there was no substance. It was just a cordial conversation."

A US National Security Council spokesman said the encounter "signifies that Fidel Castro used the opportunity of yesterday's lunch to greet the president but it doesn't change the concerns that we have about the Castro regime".

Elian Gonzalez
Elian Gonzalez: Cuban exiles wanted him to stay in the US

He said there "continues to be no movement toward democracy in Cuba".

Despite the handshake, President Castro was not invited to a reception for world leaders hosted by Mr Clinton at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Officials from Iraq, Iran and Libya were also excluded from the reception, the US spokesman said.

Castro 'victory' in Elian case

The Cuban state-run media gave blanket coverage to Mr Castro's UN visit but did not refer to the handshake.

The return of the Cuban shipwreck boy Elian Gonzalez to Cuba after a protracted custody battle marked a major victory for Mr Castro over his political enemies in the US.

Ultimately, the Clinton administration and the Cuban Government found themselves on the same side of the controversy.

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See also:

07 Sep 00 | Americas
Castro disarms summit with joke
21 Jul 00 | Americas
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
15 Jul 00 | Americas
Castro meets castaway Elian
27 Jul 99 | Americas
Castro urges anti-drug pact with US
23 Jul 99 | Americas
Cuban human rights record attacked
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