Cuban leader Raúl Castro is set to make his first appearance at the United Nations Monday, in the first session of the U.N. General Assembly since the United States and Cuba renewed diplomatic ties this summer, ending 54 years of estrangement.
Speaking to reporters, Ben Rhodes, a top national security aide to President Obama, called Castro’s appearance, “very significant” and “a symbol we’re in a new era” of U.S.-Cuba relations.
Rhodes said it’s likely that Obama and Castro will meet at some point during the week, though no formal sit-down has been scheduled. The two men spoke by phone just prior to Pope Francis’s visit this week to both countries.
But it’s not all expected to be smooth sailing. A UN resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba — which the Cubans prefer to call a blockade — is expected to come for a vote Oct. 27. The Cuban government has said the measure will acknowledge the renewed diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S., but still express concern about the ongoing sanctions, which President Obama has said he wants to work with Congress to lift.
The resolution could put the U.S. in a tricky position as it aims for a rapprochement with Cuba. The General Assembly has approved the resolution for 23 consecutive years.
“The president and Secretary [John] Kerry have been very open and honest about the fact that they want to see the embargo lifted,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said earlier this week. Kirby declined to say what position the U.S. would take on the resolution.
In a report released earlier this month, the Cuban government said the embargo has cost the country’s economy an estimated $833.76 million.
Though Raúl Castro has never spoken at the UN, his brother Fidel, who was president until 2008, gave the longest timed speech there ever in 1960 — an attack on U.S. foreign policy that lasted 269 minutes. And in a 2006 U.N. speech, Fidel Castro referred to President George W. Bush, who had spoken the previous day, as “the devil.”
“It smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of,” Fidel Castro said.
Raúl Castro will be the twentieth in a long line of speakers Monday. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will kick things off, followed by Obama.