Obama, Chavez Shake Hands

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) - Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo
Chavez, Venezuela's socialist leader, met Friday and shook hands on
the sidelines of a summit of their hemisphere's democracies.

Obama walked across a hotel meeting room to meet Chavez for the
first time, said a senior U.S. administration official who
witnessed it and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the
details of the event. The official said Obama initiated the
encounter.

Chavez has been a fierce critic of the United States during
President George W. Bush's tenure.

"It was very, very short," the official said of Friday's
meeting. "The president shook his hand, smiled and then went back
to his position in the line."

The encounter comes as Obama softens U.S. policy against Cuba, a
Chavez ally.

Asked later about the meeting, Obama elicited laughter from
reporters with a brief response: "I said, 'Como estas?"'

That's the familiar form of Spanish for "How are you?"

Photos released by the Venezuelan government show the two
smiling and Obama touching Chavez on the shoulder. Other photos
show them with clenched hands in the room next to the main summit
ballroom while the heads of state and government were waiting in
line to enter the opening ceremony.

The Venezuelan presidency also said Obama initiated the
handshake and quoted Chavez as telling Obama he hopes for better
relations between their nations.

The Venezuelan's office reported Chavez told Obama: "With this
same hand I greeted Bush eight years ago. I want to be your
friend."

Obama's comments were limited to saying that he wanted to
introduce himself to Chavez, the U.S. official said. The Obama
official would not comment on what Chavez told the U.S. president.

But when a reporter asked if the Venezuelan account of what
happened was accurate, the Obama official said: "I wouldn't
dispute that."

As recently as last week, Chavez expressed a desire to "reset"
relations with Washington.


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