Canada: Qatar gives up bid to relocate UN agency

Ottawa had accused Gulf state of trying to buy the International Civil Aviation Organization, which has been based in Montreal since 1946

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Nov. 29 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)
Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Nov. 29 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)

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 UN agency located in Montreal.

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

“I’m going to be generous. I appreciate the call,” Baird told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We were prepared to fight tooth and nail on this.”

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 UN agency.

Canadian officials said Qatar did not inform Baird about the bid despite him being Qatar just days before.

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.

Asked if Qatar dropped the bid because they felt they would lose, Baird said: “I will just say this. We’re very pleased with the strong support we received from around the world.”

Baird said Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani values the relationship with Canada and that was one of the factors.

ICAO Secretary General, Raymond Benjamin noted Montréal has been ICAO’s home for decades.

“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,” Benjamin said in a statement.

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 UN 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.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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