Canada accuses Qatar of trying to buy UN agency
TORONTO (AP) — A bid by Qatar to relocate the United Nations' civil aviation agency from Montreal to the tiny emirate has angered Canada, where officials vowed Friday to fight the move "tooth and nail."
The International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets international standards for civil aviation, has been in Montreal since it first opened in 1946. Out of the blue last month, Qatar presented ICAO with an offer to serve as the new permanent seat of the organization beginning in 2016. It included construction of new premises, paying to move materials and staffers, and paying for all expenses resulting from staff terminations and severance packages, according to the U.N. agency. Making matters worse, Qatar did not tell Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird about it when he visited the Gulf nation last month.
"They didn't do us the courtesy of raising this with us directly when the Minister was in Qatar last month," Foreign Affairs spokesman Rick Roth said. He noted that the way Qatar has gone about it "demonstrates why they are not a suitable host for a United Nations organization."
Qatar, one of the world's richest countries with vast oil and gas reserves, has been pushing to become a major player on the global stage in the last few years. It shocked the sporting world by beating out the United States and others to host the World Cup in 2022 and is looking to host the 2020 summer Olympic games. It also has taken an active role in Mideast politics, providing weapons and funding to the Syrian rebels fighting the government, promoting peace in Sudan's conflict-wracked Darfur region and pushing for a resumption of Israeli Palestinian peace talks.
ICAO said the offer must be considered at the agency's triennial assembly meeting Sept. 24-Oct 4, where 60 percent of its 191 member states must vote in favor of it for Qatar's proposal to become reality. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said he's made more than 20 calls this week in an effort to hold on to the U.N. agency's headquarters.
"I've talked to at least two Arab countries who are very positive and supportive," Baird said. "There is no doubt Qatar will fight to get the votes from each and every one of its neighbors and we'll fight hard for votes in that part of the world."
He told reporters Thursday that Qatar "is offering a lot of money to bring this headquarters to Doha" and said it should not be for sale.
Losing ICAO would be a blow for Canada and Montreal. It employs 534 people and generates about $80 million annually for Montreal's economy. The current headquarters were built in the 1990s at a cost of $100 million.
"I'm certainly not aware of any serious complaints of how we host the organization," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. "Canada and Quebec have been great hosts for the organization. There is absolutely no reasonable case to move the center out of Montreal."
Opposition parties in Canada say the bid by Qatar is politically motivated and a reflection of Canada's firm pro-Israel policy in the Middle East. Roth said Canada's Conservative government "will continue to promote a principled foreign policy."
This is not first row between a Gulf country and Canada. The United Arab Emirates lobbied against Canada's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council after relations soured as a result of disputes over airline routes.
The Gulf country's opposition followed harsh complaints about Canada's refusal to open more flights for the fast-growing carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways. The government in Abu Dhabi also forced Canada to leave a military base that is used to supply Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Canada pulled out of the Security Council race in 2010 for one of the non-permanent Security Council seats after falling behind rivals in the first rounds of voting. Canada's support for Israel was seen as a factor in losing the backing of Arab countries.
The defeat was seen as a significant setback for a G-7 economic power.