U.S. and Cuban officials say they are close to a deal to resume scheduled flights between the two countries. Paul Chapman reports.
The U.S. and Cuba have yet to reach a formal deal on resuming scheduled flights after half a century of confrontation. But officials on both sides say they've made important headway and Cuba's Director of U.S. Affairs says an announcement looks near. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) JOSEFINA VIDAL, DIRECTOR OF U.S. AFFAIRS AT THE CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTRY, SAYING: "They've made significant progress in the negotiations of a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular flights between Cuba and the United States, and soon will be able to brief us on the announcement of a preliminary agreement on this issue." At the moment charter flights link the two countries, or visitors can go through a third nation. Since President Barack Obama relaxed travel restrictions visits to Cuba by Americans are up more than 70 per cent this year, although general tourism is still banned. Cuban travellers at Havana Airport were sounding upbeat. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) JOSE LUIS MOLINA, CUBAN CITIZEN, SAYING: "All the co-operation between the two countries is very positive. I think that's very good." (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) YADAN FIGUEROA, CUBAN CITIZEN, SAYING: "They've taken steps toward consensus, and accurate steps, but a big step is missing, the step to improving relations and that's the issue related to the embargo." Several major U.S. airlines have already expressed an interest in scheduled services to Cuba.