The United States is ending its 35-year-old arms embargo on South Africa after American government arms experts concluded that the nation is complying with U.S. trade regulations.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and Vice President Al Gore on Friday announced the lifting of the embargo in a joint statement issued in both Washington and Pretoria."The suspension of debarment opens the door for normalized defense trade between the U.S. and South Africa," said the statement.

The embargo prevented the sale to South Africa of any arms with U.S.-made components, no matter where the weapons were manufactured.

The arms experts reviewed the dealings of Armaments Corporation of South Africa (Armscor), Fuchs Electronics and Denel and its divisions, including Kentron.

In a plea agreement last year with the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Armscor, Kentron and Fuchs agreed to pay fines totaling $12.5 million for their involvement in a massive international arms smuggling operation for South Africa's apartheid-era government.

Some of the equipment ended up in weapons used by Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The case posed a diplomatic dilemma for Washington because the white-minority government that established the companies was no longer in power. Nelson Mandela's government, which came to power in 1994, argued that it should not be penalized for the actions of the government it fought to oust.