Cuba's Fidel Castro took part in his first government function since he nearly died in 2006, repeating his apocalyptic warnings of a nuclear war that only President Barack Obama can avert as he spoke Saturday to a formal session of parliament.
Castro, who will turn 84 on Friday, appeared lucid and healthy during his 90-minute appearance before the National Assembly of People's Power, though an aide helped him walk around the stage.
It was the first time he participated in an official government act in four years and the latest in a string of recent public appearances that have fueled reports he wants to return to his leadership position.
Castro largely avoided the limelight after emergency intestinal surgery left him at death's door in 2006. His younger brother Raúl formally succeeded him as Cuba's leader in 2008.
Assembly members burst into applause when he walked in, said he looked ``as big as ever'' and called him comandante en jefe instead of his more recent and plain title of compañero. One sent him ``kisses, comandante.''
Wearing a military-styled olive green jacket and pants, Castro sat on the stage among the Assembly's leadership but not on the chair that he used when he led the country, which has been left empty since 2006.
Raúl Castro, wearing a white guayabera, sat on the opposite side of the stage and did not address the session. The live TV broadcast did not show the two brothers interacting. Fidel remains first secretary of the ruling Communist Party while Raúl is second secretary.
``It was clearly a command performance, and nothing about it will enhance Raúl's legitimacy as Cuba's president," said Brian Latell, a former Cuba analyst at the CIA.
``Does it all mean that Fidel is now more in control than in the past four year? I think so,'' said Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
``But it's difficult to take him seriously,'' said Miami radio cmmentator Ninoska Perez. ``He talks about the risks of nuclear war, and his 50 years in power have been as catastrophic as a nuclear war.''
As in all his recent appearances, Castro did not mention Cuba's economic crisis or his brother's efforts to ease it by adopting some reforms -- a silence interpreted by analysts as reflecting the older brother's steadfast adherence to the communist ideology.
Castro stood at the podium and read from a prepared text on the threat of nuclear war over Iran and North Korea for 12 minutes, then took writen questions from lawmakers handpicked by Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón.
He appeared to tire towards the end of the special Assembly session, which was held at his request, officially he does not have the authority to order it. Alarcón quickly brought it to an end.
Underlining the importance of his appearance, Castro noted that CNN was to broadcast the first half-hour live, and estimated its cost in advertising revenues at $100 million. Cuban officials invited foreign diplomats and journalists to the session, and announced that the live TV signal would be available free of charge to foreign stations.
Castro made a couple of blunders during the question and answer period, referring to Russia as ``the Soviets'' and `USSR'' and saying that the Big Bang that formed the universe occurred 18,000 years ago.
But he seemed clear-minded as he urged the Assembly members to consider the risks of nuclear war. The lawmakers' questions stuck to the script and none asked about domestic issues.
``What kind of parliament is this? It has no inconvenient questions, does not question, does not demand change. It only applauds, flatters, agrees,'' popular blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted.
Castro noted that after months of warning of the risks of nuclear war over the enforcement of sanctions against Iran -- he even gave a deadline in June -- he's now less pesimistic.
``At first I thought that the imminent danger of war had no solution possible,'' he said. ``I am sure, however, that it will not happen that way and that, on the contrary, the conditions for a solution (...) are being created at this time.''
``One man alone will have to make the decision: The president of the United States,'' Castro said, because Iran will not bow to U.S. and Israeli demands to halt its nuclear program.
If Obama approves an attack on Iran, he added, he will trigger a war that will spread through the Middle East and Asia and cause ``the instantaneous death of hundreds of millions people, among them an incalculable number of people in his own country.''
The ``established order of the planet ... will inevitably collapse, the reigning social order will disappear abruptly'' and all currencies will be worthless, he added.
Castro noted that ``as luck would have it, ,'' Obama's father was Muslim and his mother was Christian and added he hoped the U.S. president will become conscious of the threat to world peace.
In comparison, he called Richard Nixon a ``cynic,'' branded Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman as ``ignorant'' and called Jimmy Carter ``a decent person.''