U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat down on Saturday afternoon for talks in a meeting that made history as the first between the leaders of the two old Cold War adversaries for more than half a century.
On Friday evening, the two leaders shook hands. They met at The Summit of the Americas in Panama.
It was their first formal meeting in more than half a century, states the New York Times. The meeting cleared the way for a normalization of relations that had seemed unthinkable to both Cubans and Americans for generations.
In a small conference room in a Panama City convention center on Saturday, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro sat side by side. Obama said he wanted to “turn the page” on old divisions, although he acknowledged that significant differences between the governments would remain.
“This is obviously a historic meeting,” Obama said shortly after the two sat down. “It was my belief it was time to try something new, that it was important for us to engage more directly with the Cuban government,” quoted the New York Times.
“Over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries,” Mr Obama told Mr Castro as they sat next to each other. “We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future,” quoted The Telegraph.
President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro spoke by phone Wednesday before leaving Washington for the President’s trip to Jamaica and Panama, according to CNN.
The two leaders will meet in Panama at the Summit of the Americas.
Obama is set to meet face-to-face with Raul Castro on Friday. It is the first time the leaders have interacted since their nations agreed to renew diplomatic relations after half-a-century of hostility, states CNN.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez have already met, according to Al Jazeera. They met on the eve of the summit, on Thursday.
“It was the first time the chief diplomats from the two nations met since 1958, one year before Fidel Castro’s revolutionary guerrillas came to power,” stated Al Jazeera.
As part of its plan to counter violent extremism throughout the world, the Obama administration is looking to fight the impact that groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have on social media, according to The Hill.
The administration will work with companies and nations and will launch campaigns to counter terrorist groups’ online propaganda, which have become a key tool in their effort to spread their message of violence to the globe.
“The U.S. government, in partnership with foreign governments, civil society, and the private sector, is working to weaken the legitimacy and resonance of violent extremist messaging and narratives, including through social media,” the White House said in a fact sheet on Wednesday.
The government is organizing “technology camps” to work with companies and community groups “to develop digital content that discredits violent extremist narratives and amplifies positive alternatives,” the White House said.
Additionally, the administration is putting a new focus on countering the extremist groups’ online messages by designating a new envoy charged with discrediting them and creating a “digital communications hub” to focus specifically on ISIS’ messaging.
Internet companies have come under some pressure to do more to block the militant organizations.
One letter currently on Capitol Hill calls on Twitter to adopt new internal policies so that it treats posts endorsing terrorism similar to posts on child pornography or pirated content.
“In light of the fact that designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations now actively use Twitter to post content depicting the murder of individuals they have kidnapped or captured, users should be afforded the option to report such content as obscene and objectionable – just as easily as they are able to flag child pornography,” lawmakers wrote in a recent draft of the letter, according to The Hill.
The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism opened in the United States capital on Tuesday, February 17th. A group of 40 participants were at the beginning of the three-day event.
The summit was not just about the Islamic State, it also had a focus on American domestic issues.
“We all understand that in dealing with violent extremism, we need answers that go beyond a military answer,” said US Vice President Joe Biden. “We need answers that go beyond force. Countries, all of us including the United States, we have to work this from the ground up.
He added: “We have to work from the ground up and engage our communities and engage those who might be susceptible to being radicalized because they are marginalized.
Biden said societies need to provide immigrant communities with a sense of opportunity and a sense of belonging to counter radicalization.
“Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities with a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging – and that will discredit the terrorist appeal to fear, isolation, hatred and resentment.”
An important issue at the summit is how to stop lone-wolf attacks, which is usually violence plotted by a single person who may not share their plans with anyone.
Attention was also paid to social media.
U.S. intelligence and officials from Homeland Security have said that social media campaigns by extremist groups have fueled recruitment and inspired lone wolves in cities including Paris, Copenhagen, Ottawa and Boston.
To counter the messages by ISIS and al-Qaeda, the US State Department will expand its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications to amplify its own messages.
President Barack Obama is set to address the meetings twice with an emphasis on how civil society and the private sector have roles to play in countering violent extremism.
The meeting – which features speakers and participants from the US and abroad – has been in the works for months as part of a program the Obama administration began in 2011.
It comes just as a new report warns of a rise in violence by “lone wolves” or “leaderless resistance” groups composed of no more than two people.
It comes at a time when recent events seem connected to Islam: The shooting deaths last week of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., by a suspect who may have been motivated by religious hatred as well as other issues, and the shooting attacks that killed two and wounded five at a free speech event and synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, over the weekend, believed to have been inspired by Islamic radicalism.
The vice president upheld as examples the work of Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, where the Justice Department has launched a series of pilot programs involving local religious leaders, law enforcement and advocacy groups. Administration officials said one goal of the conference was for leaders from those cities to share best practices with others.
Overcoming distrust has been a challenge for federal officials. Some critics say the apprehension of young men – such as Christopher Lee Cornell, recently charged with plotting an attack on the US Capitol – amounts to legally questionable entrapment.
The Los Angeles program has drawn criticism from civil rights groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is worried that the program will infringe on Muslims’ freedom of speech and religion, and might hurt their public image.
The council’s national office issued a statement ahead of the summit questioning the effectiveness of programs closely tied to a government that many Muslims don’t trust.
“Credible community voices who are not viewed as ‘being in the government’s pocket’ are necessary,” it said.
More than 22 Somali men from Minnesota have gone to Somalia to fight for the radical group al-Shabab. Several others have gone or tried to go to Syria to fight for the Islamic State group.
“The most important lesson we’ve learned, and we don’t always practice it, but it’s that inclusion counts,” Biden said of the need to effectively integrate minority immigrant groups into American society, particularly Muslims. “Let me say it again: Inclusion counts. Inclusion counts.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington has taken what it calls “a proactive approach to identifying and intervening individuals who may be susceptible to violent extremism.”
Authorities are studying whether the killing of the three Muslim students in Chapel Hill – allegedly by Craig Hicks – was a hate crime. On his Facebook page, he had written: “I hate Islam just as much as (C)hristianity, but they have the right to worship in this country just as much as any others do.”
Though Hicks apparently acted alone (possibly set off by a dispute with the victims over parking spaces), it’s unclear whether he can be thought of as a violent extremist “lone wolf” in the usual sense.
In a report last week – “Age of the Wolf: A Study of the Rise of Lone Wolf and Leaderless Resistance Terrorism” – the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) examined more than 60 domestic terror incidents. Almost three-quarters of these were carried out or planned by a lone wolf, a single person acting without accomplices. Ninety percent of the incidents were the work of no more than two persons, according to the report.
The study, which included violence from both the radical right and homegrown jihadists from April 1, 2009 to Feb. 1, 2015, also found that a domestic terrorist attack or foiled attack occurred, on average, every 34 days.
“It’s important to recognize the trend away from organized groups committing acts of domestic terror,” said Mark Potok, SPLC senior fellow and editor of the report. “As Timothy McVeigh demonstrated with the Oklahoma City bombing, lone wolves and small cells of domestic terrorists can create massive carnage.”
“It is imperative that authorities, including those gathering at the White House next week, take this threat seriously. Anything less would be an invitation to disaster,” said Potok.
Some European publications found that not enough attention was paid to America’s own right-wing extremism, whereas some American news sources felt that not enough attention was paid to ISIS or religious-related terms like “Muslim” extremism.
The Guardian: “On Tuesday, the White House will convene a national summit on combatting violent extremism – but, despite a plethora of attacks by domestic right-wing extremists and the increase in white supremacist hate groups, no one expects that to be on the agenda.”
Washington Times: “From Afghanistan and borderlands of Pakistan to Iraq and North Africa, radical Islamists eager to spread their strict interpretation of the Muslim faith and topple Western values have bombed, beheaded and slaughtered — undermining the White House narrative and raising questions about its strategy.”
Bloomberg claimed that the term “Muslim extremism” won’t be used much: “President Barack Obama and his staff have gone to lengths to avoid characterizing the ideology driving Islamic State and other terrorist groups as religious extremism. The semantic exercise is intended to avoid legitimizing acts of terror as expressions of religious belief. It’s also part of a strategy to draw in the domestic Muslim leaders who Obama is leaning on…”
Last Saturday, at a Victorian theater in Des Moines, Iowa, at least eight likely Republican candidates for president met to talk to conservative activists.
The event highlighted the party’s challenge: to find a candidate who can win the loyalty of the grassroots base without moving too far to the right and jeopardizing the GOP’s chances of victory in the general election.
Theoretically, it could be a good place for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
If he didn’t have so many troubles at home.
Those include investigations into purposely causing a multi-day traffic jam in the town of a mayor he didn’t like, misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief aid, and improper use of bondholders’ funds by the Port Authority.
Party strategists and candidates remember well the lessons of Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 campaign, when he was trapped by his efforts to establish conservative bona fides, at one point calling himself “severely conservative.”
The Iowa Freedom Summit brought together more than 1,000 conservative activists, many of them sought-after for the Iowa caucuses. The first votes for the GOP nomination will be cast just over a year from now.
The event was sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa), a hard-line voice against immigration reform and on other issues, along with the conservative group Citizens United.
According to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national chairwoman who held a news conference before the event, the gathering was “an extremist ring-kissing summit masquerading as a political forum.”
Right-wingers expressed their views at the forum.
America is “mired in darkness,” said David Bossie, head of Citizens United and a conservative filmmaker who organized the event.
Conservative talk-show host Jan Mickelson began the event by saying that Iowa conservatives were not anti-immigrant, but “what we do care about is illegal gate crashers.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called Obama “an overgrown little boy” for his executive order last year allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.
The likely candidates, besides Christie, included former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, neurosurgeon/pundit Ben Carson, and former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina.
Amazingly, in a move appearing to defy time, Ted Cruz managed to show up the next day at the Koch Brothers’ right-wing forum in Palm Springs, California.
Heavyweight contenders Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney were not at the Iowa summit.
Christie told the audience that he shared its political values, deriding the “conventional wisdom” that says he’s too moderate for the state that will cast the first votes in the 2016 Republican presidential race.
Christie also cited his two wins in heavily Democratic New Jersey as evidence that Republicans do not have to abandon a “belief in the sanctity of human life” to win in blue states. He also stressed the need to seek voters everywhere.
“We need a coalition that covers all parts of the country – all ethnicities,” said Christie.
Some in attendance worried that Christie would reach across the aisle. John Graves, 45, of Bluegrass, Iowa, said that Christie’s talk of being able to work with Democrats in New Jersey worried him. He said he would rather have a nominee who stands up for conservative principles rather than rushing to compromise.
There were other conservative stars – Palin, who told reporters in the Des Moines Marriott lobby Friday night she was “seriously interested” in considering a 2016 run; and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who continued his seemingly quadrennial flirtation with a White House campaign.
Rick Santorum seemed to have his parties mixed up and said the GOP should focus less on the investor and business-owning classes and speak to the anxieties of middle-class Americans.
“We need to be the party of the worker,” he said.
“People are more motivated than I’ve seen since 1980,” said Steve Scheffler, Iowa’s Republican national committeeman and president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group of religious conservatives.
“They are concerned that another Obama-like administration will lead to the destruction of our country and our republic,” Scheffler said.
He said that Christie, even if he does not get overwhelming support at first from social conservatives, helped his cause Saturday. “It sends the message that he cares what conservatives think; it sows the seeds of goodwill,” Scheffler said.
Trump brought roars from the crowd when he said the two biggest establishment names were not viable.
“It can’t be Mitt, because Mitt ran and failed,” Trump shouted above cheers. “Something happened to him near the end of the election, which was so winnable. He choked.” He noted that Bush favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and supports national “common core” education. “The last thing we need is another Bush,” Trump said.
Born in Calgary, Canada to an American mother and Cuban father, Ted Cruz of Texas was the top choice in the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter Summit for the second year in a row. The Values Voter Summit is one of the annual gatherings for social conservatives.
However, Cruz only received support from 25 percent of attendees, a drop from the 42 percent that he received in 2013 at the height of the government shutdown. Dr. Ben Carson, who did not attend, finished second with 20 percent.