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Seven handshakes that changed the world

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In shake hands over the border in April 2018
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In shake hands over the border in April 2018 Copyright REUTERS
Copyright REUTERS
By Emily Commander
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A symbol of peace and unification, handshakes seal deals big and small, not always with the willing participation of both parties...

1. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, 1985


This handshake marks the first meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 19 November, 1985. The two leaders met in Geneva for the first time to hold talks on international diplomatic relations and the arms race. 

2. Andreas Papandreou and Turgut Ozal, 1986


Before this handshake, relations between Greece and Turkey and been hostile and the countries had fought four contemporary wars. When Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal shook hands at the European Management Symposium on 2 February, 1986, it marked a thaw that has perhaps been less enduring than was originally hoped.

3. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, 1993


It felt like a milestone but turns out to have been more of a lull: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat shook hands under the proud surveillance of US President Bill Clinton after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord at the White House on 13 September, 1993.

4. Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1994


After 46 years of apartheid, Nelson Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa. He shook hands with a reluctant outgoing President, Frederik Willem de Klerk in Pretoria on 10 May, 1994. 

5. Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness, 2012


It was a conflict that cost thousands of lives, including that of the Queen's cousin. So Britain's Queen Elizabeth II's handshake with Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister - and former IRA leader - Martin McGuinness in Belfast on 27 June, 2012 was a truly momentous occasion.

6. Raul Castro and Barack Obama, 2016


For years the United States and Cuba were enemies. Then US President Barack Obama shook the hand of Cuba's President, Raul Castro, at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. That led to an official visit to Cuba by Obama and a series of handshakes between the two men, one of which went notoriously wrong. This handshake was a more successful version in Havana on 22 March, 2016. 

7. Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron, 2017


US President Donald Trump is famous for his prolonged, forced handshakes. Before the NATO summit in Brussels on 25 May, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron turned the tables on him by refusing to let go, despite two attempts by Trump to disengage. Macron later told Politico that the move was a deliberate power play: “we need to show that we won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, while not overhyping things either,” he said.

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