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Cuba Figures Prominently in Summit of the Americas Opener

President Barack Obama has called for a new beginning between the United States and Cuba. Mr. Obama spoke at the opening of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago after a flurry of statements from U.S. and Cuban officials on the possibility of direct talks between the two long-estranged nations.

President Obama got a rousing welcome as he strode into a large hall for the opening ceremony of the fifth Summit of the Americas.

When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Obama said old grievances in the hemisphere should be set aside, replaced by a renewed commitment to expand prosperity, security and freedom in the Americas, with all nations working as equals to confront common challenges. "This is the future we can build together, but only if we move forward with a new sense of partnership," he said.

The president suggested a place for Cuba in that partnership.

One day after Cuban President Raul Castro called for open dialogue with the United States, Mr. Obama had this to say: "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust. But there are critical steps we can take toward a new day."

The president said the United States is prepared to engage in a dialogue with the Cuban government that includes human rights, free speech, democratic reform, migration, and economic issues.

On broader themes, Mr. Obama announced a U.S. initiative to boost lending and spur economic growth and recovery in the Americas, and proposed a hemispheric partnership to tackle energy and climate challenges.

Other leaders addressed a wide range of issues. Belize's prime minister [Dean Barrow] warned of rising poverty rates if the global economic slump continues, and urged international financial reform. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez placed blame for the worldwide financial crisis on the United States, but not President Obama.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's 50-minute address included a long list of grievances against the United States. Speaking through a translator, he blasted the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba and noted Cuba's exclusion from the summit. "I cannot feel comfortable by being here, because I feel ashamed of the fact that I am participating in the summit with the absence of Cuba," he said.

In his remarks, President Obama acknowledged the hemisphere's engrained suspicions of U.S. actions and motives. But he added that, just as the United States must change the way it conducts itself in the world, so too must its neighbors abandon old attitudes. "The U.S. policy should not be to interference in other countries. But that also means that we cannot blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere," he said.

Over the next two days, President Obama will take part in the summit's three plenary sessions, along with multilateral and bilateral meetings with fellow-leaders. The event's final declaration, negotiated over a nine-month period, is expected to focus on economic, environmental and energy concerns. It is not expected to mention Cuba.