June 27th, 2012
08:59 AM ET

When a handshake is not just a handshake

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shook hands Wednesday with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in a historic gesture marking an advance in the peace process around British rule of Northern Ireland.

The handshake comes 14 years after the end of a conflict that claimed about 3,500 lives and illustrates one example of when a handshake is more than just a handshake.

A few other handy examples in the history books:

• In 1972, on his trip to China, U.S. President Richard Nixon shook hands with Mao Zedong, in a first step toward better relations between the two countries.

• Thirteen years later, in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. President Ronald Reagan did the same with another Communist leader: Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two leaders were seeking common ground on arms reduction and other issues.

• Then, there was a historic moment in 1990. South African President F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shook hands in an iconic moment on the path to end apartheid.

• And finally: Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously shook hands at the White House in 1993. The two were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in Mideast peace negotiations.

What do you think? What are other instances throughout history when a handshake was more than a handshake? Share your comments below.

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Topics: Diplomacy

soundoff (154 Responses)
  1. 100 % ETHIO STRONGER!

    During the 1800's, the gift exchanges between King Theodore I of Ethiopia and Queen Victoria of Great Britain.
    It was much the true history, than the current one.
    Back in the old Days, true friendship means ready to sacrificed BLOOD and SOUL. But, nowadays, ...

    June 27, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
    • jam

      You remember the good old days.

      June 27, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
      • 100 % ETHIO

        Yes! It was all good.

        June 27, 2012 at 10:10 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        In April 2011 Hamas and Fatah delegation leaders Musa Abu Marzuka and Fatah Azzam al-Ahmad shoke hands after an historic agreement. Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was a historic achievement for the Palestinians, whose rivalries and divisions have weakened them and been exploited by their enemies.

        June 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        In June 1961, John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev met for the first time in Vienna for a two-day summit two months after the Bay of Pigs crisis in Cuba.

        June 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
      • NEO KORBEN


        July 4, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • The Britains

      That's Great!
      At least, someone remembered and appreciated the Great history of Great Britain.

      Good for you, my friend.

      June 27, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
      • bugmenot

        What ya'll need is a good dose of imperial hegemony.

        June 27, 2012 at 11:20 am |
      • Black Anthony

        Yeah. The Irish certainly remember all the wonderful "things" you monarchists did to us...

        June 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  2. 100 % ETHIO STRONGER!

    Before the 21st Century, handshake = friendship.
    After the 21st. Century, handshake = muscle check.

    June 27, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
    • Hell Switch

      I have to agree. It seems as though the handshake of leaders today is akin to two boxers hitting gloves together before the first bell.

      June 27, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
      • Alma

        Remember the song by the group "Undisputed truth"?...."beware of the handshake that hides a snake."

        June 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  3. skeptic

    I guess if your fingers are already sticky you would not mind touching these people.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • Tracy

      Where's that like button?

      June 27, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  4. knucklecheese

    A handshake means absolutely nothing whatsoever. It's an empty formality. Everyone knows that after the handshakes is over, it's business as usual. My question is, will any handshake ever mean anything again?

    June 27, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • mike

      A handshake is a personality test. If you can't correctly infer at least a few characteristics from a person's grip, find a career where you don't work with people, because even if you can't read them, rest assured that they're reading you.

      June 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
      • Marc T

        The idea that you can read someone based on their handshake isn't exactly novel. At a young age a coach of mine explained it to us in detail, and made us practice hand-shakes. So, whatever you believe to "read" may simply be a well practiced fake.

        June 28, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Steve

      A hand shake has as much value as let it, it can mean alot or nothing depending on personal values...

      July 4, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
  5. Goodstuff

    The famous handshake between the Putralescent Fecal Golem of Pontifex 12 and Ramses nibblet the 3rd.

    Little did Ramses know is that a handshake is actually a mating practice beheld by the Fecal Golems. Oh what a venerable race!

    June 27, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
    • Tracy

      And again, may I say... Where is that like button?

      June 27, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  6. whybs on twitter

    So, how much Guinness did Martin have before shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
  7. Will

    1978–Sadat and Begin.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
    • Vic

      Surprised that wasn't at the top of the list

      June 27, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
      • Marc T

        Maybe they didn't have a stock photo that prominently features a US president at that occasion?

        June 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Eric

      Yes, and more meaningful than that Rabin and Arafat one.

      June 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • cleareye1


      June 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • carter, james

      Typical of the young pups at CNN that they would not have made the Sadat-Begin handshake #1. That is one of the most significant handshakes of history.

      June 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • iammeyouareyou

      I expected Sadat and Begin at the top of the list too. Hellooooo CNN? Check your archives............

      June 27, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
    • whatiswrongwithyou

      That's what I thought

      June 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Jimmy the Tooth

      No kidding. When I clicked on the article I assumed this one would be the lead-in and it's not even on the list? Shame CNN.

      June 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      That should have been at the top of the list. It changed the landscape of the middle east and ultimately lead to the death of Saddat.

      June 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  8. Willstorm

    How about when General Robert E. Lee offered his hand to shake with Ulysses Grant and instead of shaking, Grant stole Lee's sword?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • MC

      Uh, could you be a bigger imbecile? Grant not only let Lee and the entire officer corps keep their swords, but their rifles as well.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • Eric

      Is that how they teach history in the South? It would have been in keeping with military tradition to relieve Lee of his sword at a surrender, but Grant allowed Lee and his officers to keep their swords, guns, and horses.

      June 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      True ignorance. Lee actually offered Grant his sword and Grant wouldn't take it. All Confederate officers were allowed to keep their sidearms, swords and horses.

      June 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
      • Rick Springfield

        I fully agree with that account, just from the amount of handed down Confederate arms being sold at Gold and Silver Pawn shop of Las Vegas.

        June 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • James

      Gen Lee's Sword was kept by him until his death, his decendants gave the sword to the "Museum of the Confederacy".. located in the old Southern White House. Grant was very generous on his terms. Officers could keep their Swords, Sidearms, and Horses.. Enlisted who owned their own horses (virtally all the southen cavalry) were allowed to keep them as well (Grant stated later that it was Planting Season and they would be needing them at home). In additon, Grant gave Lee over 30,000 rations for his starving troops. The rifles and cannons were surrendered.. in addition to the battle flags of each regiment (later returned to each state). Although Grant could have taken Lee's Sword (a common designation of an officer's surrender in the times, Grant never accepted Lee's sword). The sword has an honored place in the Museum and has a ceremonial use at weddings where it's allowed to be used to cut the cake.

      June 27, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • Johann

      All of you have it wrong. Lee did not offer Grant his sword, it was his SOCKS, to which Grant wisely said "Ummm, no.... you can keep them!" Seriously, after months and months of war, horse riding, dirty roads/trails, etc., no on in their right mind would want those socks.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
  9. pat carr

    IT's no big deal if the Handshake doesn't equate to Peace

    June 27, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply


    June 27, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • mike

      why are you yelling

      June 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  11. Robert Cobb

    Funny, I saw a similar article on AP two days ago. Is CNN ripping off the Associated Press without giving proper credit? Here's the link (you can see this article was posted two days before CNN's):


    June 27, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  12. Bob

    How about Camp David Accords Begin of Israel and Sadat of Egypt?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • xnay

      Well I seem to remember Carter having to push them together for that

      June 27, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Indeed. Unlike some others that resulted in a lasting peace. CNN missed it big on this one.

      June 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  13. Courtney

    The Bill Belicheck and Eric Mangini handshake.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:44 am | Reply
  14. Fitz

    Elvis and Nixon?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
  15. Joe

    Kennedy shaking hands with the Pope. The significance being that Kennedy shook the Pope's hand whereas Catholics (like Kennedy was) are generally suppose to greet the Pope by kissing his ring. The world was watching the greeting to see if Kennedy was Catholic first and foremost or President first and foremost. Kennedy greeted him with only the handshake and never kissed his ring unless he snuck in a smooch off camera.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • J.D.

      Kennedy proved here that separation between Church and State is still a standing importance for him. He did the right thing.

      June 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
      • Eric

        That's the thing about Kennedy that made Rick Santorum "want to throw up".

        June 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Rob

      "snuck a smooch" -> LMAO

      June 27, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  16. Rick

    Ceaser and Brutus?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
  17. Marine5484

    What a tragedy that Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad can't be shaking hands just like the Queen of England and Mr. McGuiness did in Northern Ireland! The problem here is that Obama works for the M.I.C. in Washington and he'll do whatever they tell him to do. He sold out to them upon assuming the Presidency!

    June 27, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
    • Jimmy Scheisskopf

      Marine? What a maroon.

      June 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
      • Ironman

        Hey Scheisskopf (I know what that means), learn how to spell first. Obama needs to go ASAP!

        June 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
      • eferg

        Marine, you are 100 % correct!!

        June 28, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • marine2234

      Disagree – Obama is the commander in chief and the best one we've ever had. Just because he makes unpopular but needed decision dosen't mean he has, and will go.

      Romney is weak and foolish – no chance he will be elected come November.

      Obama wouldn't shake hands with Ahmedinejad because he isn't the leader of Iran...read a book

      June 29, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  18. fretlessbass

    It's when you tickle the palm of their hand with your forefinger...

    June 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  19. RonPaul

    President Obama and Fidel Castro 2015. Yay!

    June 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  20. John

    Hitler and Chamberlain?
    Hitler and Petain?

    June 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  21. Tim Beeker

    Well, if all of this is true and I can get my ex to shake my hand, then... well.... nahh... I don't believe it's true.

    June 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • RedBaron

      Ha, ha. If your ex is like mine – they are better at waving fingers than shaking hands.

      June 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  22. PushingBack

    Handshakes are good things? Thank you Captain Obvious!

    June 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
  23. Lou Cypher

    Here are the ones at the top of my mind:
    – when Paul met Jesus
    – when Jefferson met Franklin
    – when Grant met Sherman
    – when Einstein met Maxwell (as only mathematicians can)
    – when Fermi met Oppenheimer
    – when Stalin met Beria
    – when Osama bin Laden met Abdullah Yusuf Azzam

    June 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
    • Ironman

      When Bin Laden met the 72 virgins!

      June 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Reply
      • Joshua

        72 VIRGINIANS, you idiot!

        June 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
      • James

        The Navy buried him at sea.. Undobutably thinking he's supposed to get 72 Sturgeons.. He's undoubtably got Crabs.

        June 27, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  24. Pylon53

    al Sadat and Begin with Jimmy Carter at Camp David

    June 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  25. Eric H.

    What is wrong with you people?


    June 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  26. Mark

    How about Tom Stafford and Alexei Leonov, as part of the Apollo-Soyuz mission?

    June 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  27. cleareye1

    Clay and Liston

    June 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
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