New York Daily News
September 08, 2000

Bill, Fidel Shake Hands

                   Activists in U.S. express anger at gesture

                   By KENNETH R. BAZINET
                   Daily News Washington Bureau

                   President Clinton and Cuban leader Fidel Castro spoke to
                   each other for the first time and even shook hands at the
                   United Nations Millennium Summit this week although
                   the White House initially insisted the handshake never took place.

                   The politically delicate gesture between Clinton and Castro
                   infuriated anti-Castro activists, still smoldering over Clinton's
                   support for sending Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez back to the
                   Communist island earlier this year.

                    The two leaders were at a luncheon Wednesday with about 150 other
                    heads of state when Castro approached Clinton for their first-ever
                    conversation.

                    Word swept through the summit that the two men shook hands, but the
                    White House denied it and said they merely exchanged pleasantries.

                   "There was no handshake," White House spokesman Joe
                   Lockhart said.

                   Several UN diplomats told the Daily News they witnessed the
                   handshake, including a Cuban official who said, "Yes, and they
                   chatted a bit, too."

                   When pressed, a White House source asked, "What's your
                   definition of a handshake?"

                   The White House later conceded the handshake took place and
                   said Lockhart misspoke because "he didn't have the information."

                   Anti-Castro Cuban-Americans blasted Clinton for not turning his
                   back on Castro.

                   "He should check his hands because Mr. Castro's are bloodied,"
                   said Mariela Ferretti, spokeswoman for the Cuban American
                   National Foundation, who called it "another exercise in poor
                   judgment on the part of Mr. Clinton."

                   But pro-Castro Cuban-Americans hoped that the impromptu
                   diplomacy between two nations that have been at odds for 40
                   years would help normalize relations.

                   "It's a wonderful thing to happen. That's what we want that
                   Clinton establishes a relationship with Cuba before he leaves
                   office," said Miguel Rodriguez, 53, an electrician from Manhattan,
                   who was demonstrating yesterday in support of Castro outside the
                   Cuban Mission to the UN.

                   The momentary detente did not get Castro invited to Clinton's
                   bash last night for summit leaders. Castro and rogue leaders from
                   countries like Libya and Iraq were excluded from the posh soiree
                   at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

                   As the summit passed its halfway mark, hope was fading for
                   Mideast peace talks that have dominated the discussions so far.

                   No talks were planned between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
                   and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but U.S. officials contended
                   the door was still open.

                   Arafat said yesterday he has rejected a proposal by President
                   Clinton to split control of Muslim and Jewish holy sites in East
                   Jerusalem.

                   Asserting he could not "betray the Arabs," Arafat said, "I will
                   continue to liberate all the Islamic and Muslim holy places."

                   Although Arafat's dismissal of the U.S. proposal dimmed already
                   fading hopes for an agreement, Clinton directed his senior
                   mediator, Dennis Ross, to keep talking to Israeli and Palestinian
                   negotiators.

                   Meanwhile, Mayor Giuliani sent a letter to Clinton yesterday
                   asking for $25 million in federal aid to cover the city's cost of
                   protecting the diplomats and directing traffic on the gridlocked
                   island of Manhattan.

                                        With Ralph R. Ortega and Martin Mbugua