McCain denounces recent handshake between Obama, Cuban president
By Dan Nowicki
The Republic | azcentral.com
Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:44 PM
U.S. Sen. John McCain didn't pull any punches after President Barack
Obama was seen shaking the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro on
Tuesday at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.
McCain, R-Ariz., decried the incident as providing propaganda that would
help Castro "continue to prop up his dictatorial, brutal regime."
"Why should you shake hands with somebody who's keeping Americans in
prison? What's the point?" McCain said in brief remarks to Todd
Zwillich, Washington correspondent for Public Radio International's "The
"Neville Chamberlain shook hands with (Adolf) Hitler," he added.
That notorious historic image of the British prime minister and the Nazi
führer has come to symbolize foreign-policy appeasement.
However, Obama is far from the only American official who has over the
years shook hands with Castro or his brother and predecessor as Cuba's
leader, Fidel Castro.
McCain's colleague U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., shook Raul Castro's
hand, too, on one of his several trips to Cuba.
"I did," Flake confirmed to The Arizona Republic last week. "I had a
meeting with him."
Flake, who, like McCain, sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
is a libertarian-leaning free-trade advocate who has worked to reform
U.S.-Cuba policy since he joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001.
He supports ending long-standing U.S. economic sanctions, including
prohibitions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, and believes the United
States can do more to secure the release of jailed American Alan Gross.
Flake said he doesn't read anything nefarious into last week's handshake
in South Africa, adding that Obama would have caused a bigger incident
had he "snubbed" Castro at the event.
"If we never met with those with whom we disagreed, we wouldn't get very
far," Flake said. "I met Raul, but I never met Fidel."
Former Mesa Mayor Wayne Pomeroy also has previously felt political heat
for shaking the hand of a Castro.
On a 1978 trip to Cuba with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Pomeroy met
Fidel Castro at a Havana reception. He shook Castro's hand and got his
An Associated Press photograph captured the smiling interaction, causing
a furor back in Mesa.
"A lot of people wanted to make something out of it," Pomeroy, 90,
recalled. "Well, I don't know how you ever solve anything if you don't
try to talk to people, and let people see what you're like, too."
Pomeroy also sided with Obama on the handshake controversy.
"I really can't see why anybody would think that shaking hands with Raul
Castro would be a bad thing," he said. "That doesn't make sense to me."
Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, declined to comment on Flake's meeting
with Raul Castro or otherwise elaborate on McCain's remarks.
In other developments:
Flake told The Republic he is not trying to stall the consideration of a
group of Obama judicial nominees for Arizona by withholding "blue
slips." The slips are a time-honored way for home-state senators to have
a say on nominations that affect their constituents. Flake, who sits on
the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not returned his blue slips and has
been criticized for holding up the confirmation process.
Flake said he has no objections to the Arizona nominees, which include
Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe who if confirmed would become
the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench. Rather,
he wants to make sure the White House follows through with one more
"We had an agreement on six nominations, and we're just waiting on the
White House to nominate the final one," Flake said. "As soon as they do,
we'll move ahead."
McCain on Friday left for Ukraine, where a violent government crackdown
on protesters has created a volatile situation.
"Senator McCain is traveling to Kiev to meet with government officials,
opposition leaders and civil society as they work to determine their
country's future," Rogers said.
On Monday, McCain is scheduled to host a New York fundraiser.
McCain, who has not yet announced whether he intends to seek a sixth
term in 2016, invited supporters to join him at the midtown St. Regis
Hotel event "as I consider running for re-election to the U.S. Senate."
Nowicki is The Republic's national political reporter.
Source: "McCain denounces recent handshake between Obama, Cuban