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
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
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
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
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