December 18, 2007 / 4:42 PM / 12 years ago

White House says Castro letter "interesting"

Cuban President Fidel Castro smiles during a visit from Argentine writer and congressman Miguel Bonasso in Havana in this September 15, 2006 file photo. The White House said on Tuesday a letter from Cuban leader Fidel Castro suggesting he might give up his formal leadership post was interesting, but that it was difficult to determine what it actually meant. REUTERS/Granma/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday a letter from Cuban leader Fidel Castro suggesting he might give up his formal leadership post was interesting, but that it was difficult to determine what it actually meant.

Castro, who has been ailing and not been seen in public for 16 months, said in a letter read on Cuban state television: “My elemental duty is not to hold on to positions and less to obstruct the path of younger people.”

It was the first time the 81-year-old Cuban leader had spoken of a possible retirement since he fell ill.

“It was an interesting letter,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “It’s hard to make out what he is saying or what he means, as is not unusual.”

Castro has made similar comments in the past, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

“I don’t think, unfortunately, these remarks represent any kind of fundamental change in the views of the Cuban regime,” he said. “Comments by Fidel like this, you know, remind me of the old country song, ‘How can we ever miss you if you won’t ever leave?’” he said.

President George W. Bush, in an October speech on Cuba, called the Castro government a “disgraced and dying order” and urged Cubans to push for democratic change.

Castro handed over power temporarily to his brother Raul Castro in July 2006 after undergoing stomach surgery for an undisclosed illness.

“We’re just continuing to work for democracy on the island, and we believe that that day will come soon,” Perino said.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Paul Eckert; Editing by David Alexander and Doina Chiacu

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