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Flights to link US and Angola

LUANDA, Apr 22 – Direct commercial flights between the United States and Angola will begin soon under an air transport agreement due to be signed between the two countries Thursday, an official said.

"I look forward to signing a new bilateral air transit agreement with the minister of transport tomorrow. And that agreement will allow direct commercial flights between our two countries," US Under Secretary of State William Burns told journalists on arriving Wednesday night in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

"Angola is one of only three countries in Africa with whom the United States is launching strategic partnership dialogues, and that reflects the range and the importance of the agenda between our two countries," he said.

Until now the only direct air links between the United States and Angola have been charter flights for American expatriates working in Angola\’s booming oil sector.

Other passengers have typically had to fly through South Africa or Europe to reach the United States from Luanda.

American air carrier Delta, which has been manoeuvring since 2008 to be the first to launch direct flights between the two countries, sees strong market potential in Angola, which has thousands of Americans working in its oil sector as well as numerous humanitarian workers.

Last month the European Union partially lifted a ban barring Angola\’s national carrier, TAAG, from flying to the EU.

But Burns said TAAG\’s removal from the EU blacklist was not decisive in reaching the new agreement.

"There is no single step, this is an agreement that we have been working out for some time," he said.

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Burns, the third-ranking official in the US State Department, did not give further details on the air transport agreement.

His two-day visit is also scheduled to include meetings with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and foreign minister Assuncao dos Anjos, as well as a visit to the United States-Angola chamber of commerce.

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