Canada: Qatar gives up bid to relocate UN agency

AP News
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Posted: May 24, 2013 3:57 PM

TORONTO (AP) — Qatar has abandoned its bid to relocate the United Nations civil aviation agency from Canada to the tiny emirate, ending a bitter fight between the two nations, both countries said Friday.

Canada had accused Qatar, which has been trying to burnish its international presence, of trying to buy the U.N. agency located in Montreal.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said he received a call from Qatar's prime minister on Thursday.

"He was generous. He and Qatar value the relationship with Canada," Baird told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We're very happy because the minute we learned this we launched an international campaign."

Qatar's embassy in Ottawa said in a statement that considering the "keenness" of Qatar to "preserve the close and historic friendship" between the countries and the importance that Canada attaches to keeping ICAO's headquarters in Montreal, Qatar decided to withdraw its offer.

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.

Losing ICAO would have been a blow for Canada and Montreal, the hub of Canada's aviation industry. ICAO employs 534 people and says it generates about $80 million annually for Montreal's economy. Its current headquarters were built in the 1990s at a cost of $100 million.

International Civil Aviation Organization spokesman Anthony Philbin said Qatar sent ICAO's secretary general a letter Thursday night saying they would like to withdraw their offer. He said no explanation was provided.

ICAO has been in Montreal since its founding in 1946. Qatar presented ICAO with an unsolicited offer in April to serve as the new permanent seat of the organization beginning in 2016.

The proposal included construction of new premises, paying to move materials and staffers, and paying for all costs of staff terminations and severance packages, according to the U.N. agency.

Canadian officials said Qatar did not inform Baird about the bid when he visited there in April.

Qatar argued it would be nice to escape Montreal's cold winters. Baird later took a jab at the Gulf country's climate, saying he'd rather have four seasons rather than a crushing humid temperature of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) 12 months a year.

ICAO said the offer would have to be considered at the agency's triennial assembly meeting Sept. 24-Oct 4, where 60 percent of its 191 member states would have had to vote favor of it for Qatar's proposal to become reality.

"Montréal has been our home for many decades," ICAO Secretary General, Raymond Benjamin, said in a statement. "While the offer to move us to Doha was extremely generous, ICAO is also very pleased to continue its global mission with the support and cooperation of the Canadian and local governments."

Opposition parties in Canada had said the bid by Qatar was politically motivated and a reflection of Canada's firm pro-Israel policy in the Middle East.

Canada has been tussling with several Gulf nations in recent years. The United Arab Emirates lobbied against Canada's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2010 after relations soured following disputes over airline routes, after Canada refused to open more flights for the fast-growing carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways.

Canada's support for Israel was also seen as a factor in losing the backing of Arab countries. The government in Abu Dhabi also forced Canada to leave a military base.

Qatar has taken an active role in Mideast politics, providing weapons and funding to the Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, promoting peace in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and pushing for a resumption of Israeli Palestinian peace talks.