For Some Foes the Chat, Some the Cold Shoulder

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IN April 1959, Fidel Castro, fresh from his victory roll through the streets of Havana, came to the United States on a charm offensive.

The youthful Mr. Castro — he was only 32 — hired a public relations firm, held news conferences, answered questions, ate hot dogs. He repeatedly disavowed Communism. But he was refused a meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower, and after leaving the United States he returned to Cuba and joined forces with the Soviet Union and Nikita Khrushchev.

As Senators Barack Obama and John McCain continue their bickering about whether the next president should talk to Iran, the Castro example poses the utmost tantalizing “what if?” question: What if Mr. Eisenhower had made nice with Mr. Castro on his maiden trip to Washington? Or, more precisely, could the United States have avoided 50 years of enmity — including a brush with nuclear annihilation — if Mr. Eisenhower had just given the young revolutionary a big hug?

Not likely. Most historians say that both men needed each other too much as adversaries to see significant political benefit in early rapprochement: Mr. Eisenhower needed to show that he was standing up to the new Cuban government, which was bent on nationalizing American assets, while Mr. Castro’s own legitimacy, in many ways, was based on his anti-Americanism.

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