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Venezuela suspends threat to ban US flights-envoy

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CARACAS, Venezuela, Mar 24 (Reuters) Venezuela has suspended a threat to restrict flights by US airlines after the two governments agreed to hold talks to end a dispute over aviation rights, US Ambassador to Caracas William Brownfield said.

Venezuela had threatened to suspend or limit flights by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines from March 30 if the US Federal Aviation Administration did not lift decade-old restrictions on Venezuelan airlines flying to US airports.

''The FAA is sending a technical team to Venezuela, they will arrive at the weekend,'' Brownfield told local Globovision television yesterday. ''For their part, the Venezuelan government has decided to suspend the measures they were going to apply against US airlines from March 30.'' Officials at Venezuela's INAC aviation authority could not be reached for immediate comment.

The airline spat had tested fraying ties between Washington and the government of left-wing President Hugo Chavez, who has clashed with American officials over his alliance with Cuba and his fierce opposition to US free-market proposals in South America.

Caracas has struggled for about a decade to get the FAA to revise its 1995 ruling that the South American country had failed to fully comply with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards.

Venezuela currently has an FAA category 2 rating, under which airlines are restricted from expanding US flight services and some are required to lease aircraft from a category 1 country to fly to US airports.

Reuters DH VP0615

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