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President Obama Spoke To Raul Castro By Phone; Leaders May Meet Later

President Barack Obama walks past an honor guard after arriving in Panama City Thursday. Obama is attending the Summit of the Americas, where he's expected to meet Cuba's President Raul Castro.

On Wednesday, President Obama spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro by phone, the White House has confirmed. There's no word on how long the conversation between Castro and Obama lasted — but it represents only the second time in the past 50 years that the heads of the U.S. and Cuba are known to have spoken to each other.

Later in the afternoon, Ben Rhodes, the White House's deputy national security adviser, said Obama and Castro "interaction" would happen on Saturday.

As relations between the two countries begin to thaw, many expect Obama and Castro to meet in person today in Panama, where Obama is visiting for the Summit of the Americas.

"This is the first time Cuba has been invited to the two-decade-old conference," NPR's Carrie Kahn reports. "The warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba has helped President Obama's standing in Latin America, but the administration's recent sanctioning of several top Venezuelan officials has complicated Obama's appearance at the summit."

The U.S. State Department on Thursday reportedly recommended taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The president "now has to make a decision on the recommendation," as Eyder reported last night. "If Obama accepts it, he has to notify Congress and Cuba would be removed from the list 45 days later.

In another sign of budding ties between the two nations, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Cuban counterpart, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, in Panama City Thursday.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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