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UAE envoy explains tit-for-tat visa demand Add to ...

“Reciprocity” – not retaliation – is the official explanation for a decision by the United Arab Emirates to impose visa requirements on Canadian travellers in the new year.

Visitors from the UAE currently need a visa to enter Canada, and the new rules will simply level the playing field, says a statement from the Gulf country's ambassador in Ottawa.

“The policy is based on a policy of reciprocity,” Ambassador Mohamed Abdulla Al Ghafli said via his office Tuesday.

The line was echoed by officials at the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa.

“In 2009 the UAE made a decision to pursue visa reciprocity with many countries, including Canada, that did not offer UAE citizens visa-free access,” spokesman Jacques Labrie said in an email.

“The UAE government is now implementing its 2009 decision.”

Neither the Canadian nor UAE official line alluded to the continuing dispute over commercial airline landing rights that has soured relations between the two countries and led to the Canadian Forces being evicted from a key military transit base near Dubai.

However, behind the scenes, officials in the Emirates and in Ottawa with knowledge of the dispute confirm that is the root of the visa decision.

Relations with Canada have reached the point where they are “neither healthy nor hopeful,” an official source in Abu Dhabi told The Associated Press.

“The visa waivers are granted to countries with a special relationship ... built on economic and other areas of close and growing co-operation,” said the person, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about diplomatic matters.

“The current status of relations with the government in Canada compared with other countries on the visa-waiver program is at a much lower level. ... It isn't fair to include it with countries with which we have a healthy and productive relationship.”

A source in Ottawa said negotiations over access to Canadian airports ended badly after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon won an extension of the Camp Mirage lease last June by promising to resolve the dispute. Canada had been using the base rent-free since 2001.

Instead, said the source, Canada offered only to permit one more flight per week to Canada, but not to Toronto, and then followed up with a second offer that “actually involved a capacity cut from the current agreement.”

“There was a sense that Canada was insulting the UAE because they had agreed at the ministerial level to try and negotiate a fair deal on air access and then proceeded to offer nothing of value,” the source said.

The UAE informed Ottawa in October that it had a month to clear out of Camp Mirage. The base was a critical logistics and supply point for Canada's 2,750 troops in Afghanistan and its loss is complicating withdrawal plans for Canadian soldiers next year.

Insult was added to injury when the UAE refused to allow Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk to land at Camp Mirage en route to Canada from Afghanistan last month.

There are about 25,000 Canadians living in the U.A.E., according to the oil-rich country's embassy website.

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