The United States and Cuba are on the verge of a deal to restore regular airline flights, jumpstarting economic relations that have languished despite a year of rapid progress on the diplomatic front, Cuba's top negotiator said on the eve of the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.
The deal being thrashed out at marathon talks in Washington would open the way for U.S. airlines to negotiate with Cuba's government for routes that could bring thousands more visitors a day to the island. The reestablishment of commercial U.S. flights to Cuba after half a century would be the biggest business development since the two countries began normalizing relations last year.
Teams meeting in Washington "have made important advances in negotiating a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular flights between Cuba and the United States, and shortly they will be ready to announce a preliminary agreement on this issue," Josefina Vidal, head of North American affairs for Cuba's foreign ministry, told reporters in Havana.
State Department spokeswoman Kerry Humphrey said late Wednesday that the countries "are making progress but still negotiating."
The United States and Cuba publicly say they're delighted with the state of diplomatic relations a year after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared the end to more than 50 years of official hostility. The two countries have reopened embassies in Havana and Washington; agreed to a pilot program restarting direct mail service; signed two deals on environmental protection; and launched talks on issues from human rights to compensation for U.S. properties confiscated by Cuba's revolution.