President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba shook hands here on Friday night, and American officials said they would hold discussions on Saturday during a gathering of regional leaders, in the first full-fledged meeting between presidents of the United States and Cuba in more than a half-century.
The expected encounter was not on Mr. Obama’s official schedule, but it held deep significance for the regional meeting, as the president’s move to ease tensions with Cuba has overshadowed the official agenda.
Mr. Obama is nearing a decision on removing Cuba’s three-decade-old designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, citing progress in the effort to re-establish diplomatic ties after half a century of hostilities.
He spoke by telephone with Mr. Castro before the gathering, and on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Bruno Rodríguez, the Cuban foreign minister — the highest-level session between the governments in more than 50 years — to lay the groundwork for the advancing reconciliation. The much-anticipated handshake on Friday night came as leaders gathered for a welcome dinner, where Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro were seated at the same table, separated by two other people.