The United States and Cuba have reached an understanding on restoring commercial airline travel between the two countries, officials from both sides told The Associated Press.
Negotiators from both sides in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday came to the informal agreement and said they hope to finalize the deal within hours or days.
The travel agreement is one of several efforts aimed at normalizing relations between the former Cold War adversaries. It comes on the eve of the anniversary of the detente between the countries.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Havana, told reporters on Tuesday that boosting travel was a goal of President Obama’s policy shift toward Cuba.
“In that regard we have seen an increase in authorized travel by U.S. citizens by over 50 percent,” DeLaurentis said.
American and Cuban passengers must currently fly on charter flights that are complicated to book in order to travel between the nations.
Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba earlier this year in executive actions aimed at relaxing economic embargos.
But travel to the communist nation remains illegal, unless one qualifies for an authorized trip for reasons such as business, journalism and religious work.
Obama said he hopes to visit Cuba before he leaves office.
“I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I think the conditions have to be right,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News this week. “My hope is that sometime next year we look at the conditions there and we say, ‘You know what? Now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.'"
The U.S. and Cuba announced last week that they would restart direct mail service after a 52-year postal stoppage between the nations.