US and Cuba to resume regular commercial flights

Washington: The US today announced the resumption of regular flights to and from Cuba, the latest step in the thawing relationship between the two Cold War-era enemies.

"On December 16, the United States and Cuba reached a bilateral arrangement to establish scheduled air services between the two countries," the State Department said in a statement.

"This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorised travel, enhance traveller choices and promote people-to-people links between the two countries," it said.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama today called for the lifting of the US embargo against Cuba.

"Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy," he said in a statement.

The deal to resume regular commercial flights was finalised last night, an official was quoted as saying by CNN. The official could not say when flights would actually resume, because there are other steps the Federal Aviation Administration needs to take to ensure certain safety regulations are in place.

However, media reports said the aviation deal allows 30 regularly scheduled flights a day. "A stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorised travel between our two countries," the statement said. US law still bars travel to Cuba for tourism.

The move to announce the start of commercial flights is the latest in a series of steps taken to cool off tensions between the two countries.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla travelled to Washington in July to re-open Cuba's US Embassy, and Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cuba a month later to re-open the US Embassy there for the first time since 1961.

"When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don't think anyone thought it would be more than half a century before it reopened," President Barack Obama had said.

And in April, Obama met for an hour with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, the first time the two nations' top leaders sat down for substantive talks in more than 50 years.

But not all Cold War vestiges have been cast off -- the  US embargo remains in place with support from Republican lawmakers who have railed against President Obama's efforts to renew relations with Cuba.

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