Sen. Lindsey Graham on Friday attacked President Barack Obama's dealings with Cuban President Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas this weekend, saying that his "failing foreign policy has greatly diminished America's influence in the world."
"President Obama is truly writing new chapters in American foreign policy," the South Carolina Republican said. "Unfortunately, these latest chapters are ones of America and the values we stand for — human rights, freedom, and democracy — in retreat and decline.
"President Obama's foreign policy has been one of appeasement toward autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries ... Is it any wonder that on President Obama's watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?"
Obama and Castro met briefly late Friday in Panama, shaking hands
and exchanging words in their first encounter since December, when they started work on restoring diplomatic ties that had been strained for more than half a century.
They had spoken by telephone two days ago, and saw each other briefly in Panama City with other leaders at Atlapa Convention Center before the start of the Summit of the Americas.
Obama and Castro will most likely spend more time together on Saturday, Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said earlier on Friday.
"We certainly do anticipate that they will have an opportunity to see each other tomorrow," Rhodes said in Panama City. "There's a range of issues where we've been in dialogue with the Cubans.
"The two leaders will be able to address and take stock" of progress on negotiations, he said.
The summit begins two days after Cuban democracy leaders were attacked by supporters of Castro's communist regime at a peaceful protest in Panama City. Among those beaten in the assault was Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, a former political prisoner who was House Speaker John Boehner's guest at Obama's State of the Union address in January.
In addition, Obama said Thursday that the State Department had completed its review of whether to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism
, but that he was waiting for a recommendation from his advisers.
Sen. Graham, who is considering a run for the White House in 2016, highlighted the attacks in slamming Obama.
"The Summit of the Americas presents President Obama with a historic opportunity to stand with those independent members of Cuban civil society who are promoting the universal ideals of freedom and liberty, and instead he will use his time to meet with an entrenched dictator, Raul Castro," he said. "President Obama should take the effort to publicly condemn the attacks and meet with these freedom fighters."
Another South Carolina Republican, Rep. Jeff Duncan, who is attending the summit, said Congress must weigh in heavily on any move by Obama to remove Cuba from the terrorism list.
"The Cuban regime has a clear record of sponsoring terrorism, supporting illegal activity, and brutally oppressing its own people," Duncan said. "While the administration may be anxious to check the boxes on a few legacy items like U.S. Cuba policy, the fact remains that there is a strong bipartisan coalition in Congress that will insist on a host of democratic, humanitarian, and national security conditions being met first.
"It is worth noting that Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the administration's actions and ensure they align with our national interests," he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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