HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro said on Thursday his country could talk to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, in Havana's latest overture to the incoming Democratic administration in Washington. His remarks followed comments from his brother, President Raul Castro, who told a U.S. magazine he could meet Obama in a "neutral place" to try to end the Communist-run island's four-decade conflict with the United States.
"With Obama, talks could happen anywhere he wants," Fidel Castro, America's longtime Cold War enemy, wrote in the latest of a series of columns he has published in state-run media since falling ill in 2006. "He should remember the carrot-and-stick approach will not work with our country," Castro wrote of Obama. "The sovereign rights of the Cuban people are not negotiable."
Fidel Castro, who took power nearly 50 years ago after an armed revolution, has not been seen in public since undergoing surgery for an undisclosed illness in July 2006. But he has met several state leaders and appeared in photographs. Obama, who takes office on January 20, has raised hopes of improved U.S.-Cuba ties by saying he was open to talks with the Cuban government and has favored easing some U.S. sanctions. He has said he will reverse the U.S. administration's policies restricting Cuban Americans from visiting Cuba and sending cash to their families. He is willing to talk to Castro but would keep the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo as leverage to influence changes in the one-party state. Raul Castro formally took over the Cuban presidency in February and has said several times Havana is willing to talk to the United States.
Before the U.S. presidential election last month, Fidel Castro praised Obama as intelligent and humanitarian in the columns that have become his main form of communication. Raul suggested in the interview he could meet Obama in Guantanamo Bay, where the United States maintains a naval base, which Cuba considers a violation of its sovereignty.
(Reporting by Patrick Markey; editing by Todd Eastham)