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Argentina's president says she met with Fidel Castro

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is alive and well and praising new U.S. President Barack Obama, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said Wednesday.

The revelation comes after recent speculation that the 82-year-old former president, who hasn't appeared publicly since he had major intestinal surgery in July 2006, was near death. Rumors intensified after he stopped writing newspaper columns last month.

Curiously, however, the state-run Cuban newscast Wednesday evening covered Fernandez's visit in detail, but made no mention of the meeting with Castro.

Conjectures that Castro's health had deteriorated flared last week after his close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said it was unlikely that the former leader would appear in public again.

Raul Castro, who accompanied Fernandez to the airport after an official visit, dismissed talk that his older brother's health had worsened.

"Now you know that Fidel is fine," he said, adding that his brother spends days "exercising, thinking and reading a lot, advising me, helping me."

"You think if he were gravely ill that I'd be smiling here?" Raul Castro told reporters. "Soon I'm going to take a trip to Europe. You think I would leave here if Fidel were really in grave condition?"

The younger Castro did not say why his brother's columns in the official press had stopped but said they would return soon.

Fernandez told reporters that she and Fidel met behind closed doors Wednesday for at least an hour. She said he seemed healthy and spent the day before watching televised coverage of the Obama inauguration.

"We talked a lot about Obama," she said. "He had a very good impression of Obama and he seemed to believe in what he said."

It was the elder Castro's first reported meeting with a foreign leader since a Nov. 28 talk with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.