U.A.E. closes airspace to MacKay, Natynczyk
A military source in Ottawa says the United Arab Emirates closed its airspace Monday to Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk in an escalating diplomatic row over aviation rights.
MacKay and Natynczyk were on their way back from a three-day visit to Afghanistan and the U.A.E. denied their plans to land there, so they had to be rerouted to Europe.
Just hours earlier, MacKay had confirmed that talks with the U.A.E. had failed, and that Canada would abide by the country's wishes and vacate its base in Dubai known as Camp Mirage. MacKay made the comments while visiting Canadian soldiers in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
"There have been discussions going on between the minister of foreign affairs and his counterpart. These discussions have been going on for some time," MacKay said. "And at this point we will abide by the wishes of the Emirates, and ... we will be leaving the base."
He would not say what prompted the closure, but the dispute centres around the U.A.E.'s request for more landing rights in Canada for its national carriers, Emirates and Etihad.
A 1999 agreement allows Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways to fly up to six times a week into Canada.
But the U.A.E. government says that with 27,000 Canadians living in that country, and a significant trade relationship — the U.A.E. is Canada's largest trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa — six flights per week are not enough.
Air Canada has objected to increased service to Canadian destinations. It says that in certain areas, such as Dubai, there is very little originating traffic that comes to Canada.
The Camp Mirage base near Dubai was to play a central role in the planned withdrawal of troops from Kandahar following the July 2011 end to the combat mission. MacKay said the military is now examining other options.
"We'll always act in Canada's best interests and one thing I know about the Canadian Forces, they're very adaptable," MacKay said. "They have alternative plans, they have contingency plans. With that in mind we're going through the various options that are before us right now.
"And we'll continue to do our mission here in Afghanistan ... and we'll find other ways to support this mission through other hubs in the region," he added.