White House dismisses critics over Obama-Castro handshake
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013, dismissed Republican criticism of President Barack Obama's handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.
Mr Obama has faced a backlash from Republican rivals after exchanging pleasantries with Mr Castro, the leader of a Communist-run country that has been bitterly estranged from the United States since 1961.
The White House has insisted the gesture was not "pre-planned" while a Cuban government-run website noted hopefully that the handshake could "be the beginning of the end of the US aggressions against Cuba". White House spokesman Josh Earnest played down the significance of the exchange on Wednesday, stating it had been informal.
"It's my understanding, based on people who did talk to the President after his speech, that they didn't have a robust, substantive conversation about policies, but rather exchanged some pleasantries as the President was making his way to the podium," Mr Earnest told reporters.