December 16, 2015 - 10:57 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The United States and Cuba are close to an agreement on restoring regularly scheduled, commercial flights between the countries, a senior American diplomat said Tuesday, December 15, as talks on the matter were ongoing, the Associated Press reports.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who heads the U.S. embassy in Havana, described an aviation deal as one of several in reach for the former Cold War foes in their wide-ranging discussions to improve relations. The Obama administration has been trying to wrap up an agreement on flights before the year's end.
"We have made good progress and come a long way," DeLaurentis told reporters on a conference call two days before the one-year anniversary of the announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro that they were ending a half-century of U.S.-Cuban enmity.
"Our two countries have engaged in a historic dialogue on a wide range of issues," he said. "We have discussed concrete objectives on civil aviation, direct transportation of mail, environment, regulatory changes and counternarcotics. And we have either reached understandings on those topics or continue to narrow our differences in ways that suggest we could soon conclude such understandings."
Right now, American and Cuban travelers must fly on charter flights that are complicated to book, rarely involve an online portal and often force prospective travelers to email documents and payment information back and forth with an agent.
Those flying sometimes must arrive at the airport four hours in advance; strict baggage limits apply.
U.S. and Cuban officials are negotiating the logistics of commercial airline routes this week, and may be able to make an announcement afterward.