- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

From combined dispatches

HANOI — Vietnam and the United States tentatively agreed yesterday to allow the first commercial flights between the two countries since the end of the Vietnam War, the State Department said.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the agreement would be signed by U.S. and Vietnamese officials in Hanoi today after a third round of negotiations.

“Delegations representing the United States and Vietnam are expected to initial in Hanoi [today] the first air services agreement between our two countries,” he told reporters.

Vietnam’s relations with the United States have broadened since a bilateral trade agreement went into effect in December 2001. The pact has significantly increased trade between the former foes, but negotiators have been unable to reach an agreement on air travel.

American carriers now must use code-sharing agreements with other airlines that operate in the country, which means passengers flying between the two countries have to switch planes somewhere before reaching their final destination.

The accord, which would have to be formally accepted by both countries, would allow commercial flights between the United States and Vietnam.

Mr. Boucher said he expected that to happen “very shortly” but could not give a time frame for formal approval or indicate when the agreement would come into force.

As part of the agreement, the two sides have agreed to look anew at liberalizing their aviation ties in four years, he said.

“The U.S. objective remains for a full open-skies relationship with Vietnam,” Mr. Boucher said.

“The two countries have been waiting for this agreement for a long time. This is a new step forward in bilateral relations,” said Le Dang Doanh, an economist and adviser to the minister of planning and investment. “With the agreement, Vietnam has the opportunity to fly to the United States, a huge market, but it also has to face fierce competition” from U.S. airlines.

The deal comes as Vietnam moves toward a market economy and works to promote tourism.

Vietnam has said the American market accounts for 10 percent of its aviation business, and the percentage would likely increase with direct flights making travel quicker and more convenient.

More than 1 million Vietnamese reside in the United States, many of whom fled Vietnam after the communists defeated the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam in 1975. Many overseas Vietnamese have begun traveling back to their homeland.

Negotiations on an aviation agreement broke down three years ago but resumed earlier this year.

The U.S. delegation in the talks, led by Laura Faux-Gable, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Aviation Negotiations, also includes representatives of the Department of Transportation. Several large American carriers also were included, along with cargo carriers and a representative of San Francisco International Airport.

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