Obama shakes hands with Cuba's Castro at Mandela memorial

One of the more unforgettable photos from the memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela is this one of President Barack Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 10, 2013.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday shook hands with Raul Castro, leader of long-time Cold War foe Cuba, at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in Soweto.

Obama offered the handshake before taking the stage to give his speech at the ceremony, in a new sign of his willingness to reach out to US enemies, a US official told AFP.

Obama was one of close to 100 world leaders at the event in Soweto's World Cup stadium, where songs of praise and revolution, many harking back to the apartheid era that Mandela helped condemn to history, echoed down from the dancing crowds in the stands.

In Havana, Obama and Castro's handshake was saluted as a hopeful sign.

The government website Cubadebate.cu ran a photograph of the moment with the caption: "Obama greets Raul: may this image be the beginning of the end of the US aggressions against Cuba."

It was only the second time since diplomatic ties were broken in 1961 that leaders of the two Cold War antagonists have greeted each other — and the first time the greeting took place in public.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton exchanged greetings in 2000 during the Millennium summit in New York. There was no picture of the encounter.

While the White House eventually acknowledged a handshake had taken place at the time, Castro said only words had been exchanged.

"I couldn't run out to avoid greeting him," the elder of the Castro brothers said at the time, adding that the encounter lasted 20 seconds. "It would have been extravagant and rude to do anything else."