Skip to main content

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird listens as Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan responds to a question on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday September 18, 2012.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Harper government has sealed the end of its spat with the United Arab Emirates with an agreement to sell the Gulf country nuclear technology.

Relations between Canada and the UAE blew up into a tense dispute two years ago when Ottawa refused to provide more landing rights for Emirati airlines, and the Persian Gulf nation responded by abruptly booting Canada out of the staging base used for troops and equipment in transit to Afghanistan.

But it was all smiles on Parliament Hill Tuesday, when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his Emirati counterpart, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced a new nuclear deal, spoke of each other as friends and declared relations healed. Or almost healed: The UAE cut the hefty fees for the visas Canadians have required to travel there since the spat, but didn't drop the visa requirements completely.

The deal that marks the end of the spat is a nuclear co-operation agreement, which opens the door for Canadian firms to sell nuclear technology and material, such as uranium, to the UAE. "It also represents the trust between our two countries," Mr. Al Nahyan said.

The Emirates, a major oil exporter, are installing four 1,400-megawatt, South Korean-designed nuclear reactors to supply electricity to the country, and are seeking to expand the list of potential suppliers to its nuclear industry.

Mr. Al Nahyan pointed to his country as a "model" for the region in its use of nuclear power – contrasting his country's plans to build civilian reactors with international suspicions that Iran is using its nuclear industry to develop weapons.

"It's unfortunate that other countries – and here, obviously I'm talking about Iran – do not look at the bigger picture when it comes to civil nuclear programs," he said.

Between Canada and the UAE, the deal marked a step in Mr. Baird's lengthy efforts to repair ties – that he played a part in straining.

It was Mr. Baird, as transport minister, who lobbied the cabinet to refuse the UAE's demand for more flights to Canada for their Emirates and Etihad airlines; he argued it would undercut Air Canada and Canadian jobs.

The UAE responded by booting Canada out of the staging base, Camp Mirage, used for Afghanistan operations – and even refusing to allow Defence Minister Peter MacKay to fly over its airspace.

The dispute also created a rift at the cabinet table with Mr. MacKay, who argued Ottawa should make concessions to the UAE on landing rights because of defence co-operation with the UAE. On Tuesday, Mr. MacKay arrived to shake hands with Mr. Al Nahyan after the two foreign ministers held their news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons.

Mr. Baird told reporters that the two countries "obviously had a difficult point in our relationship," but that he and Mr. Al Nahyan have sought to repair ties. The two men have met several times, and this was Mr. Al Nahyan's second trip to Ottawa in a year. He credited his "friend," Mr. Baird, with improving the relationship.

But some of the the effects of the spat still linger. When asked about landing rights for Emirati airlines, Mr. Al Nahyan said that is "still important" but that improvement in the overall relationship will help the two countries get through it.

He said his country will reduce the visa fees Canadians now pay to go to the UAE – $1,000 for a six-month, multiple-entry visa, and $250 for a 30-day visa. An aide said those fees will be reduced by a third. But the UAE didn't drop the visa requirement, and Mr. Al Nahyan appeared to suggest the UAE is waiting for Canada to make other concessions before the visa requirements are dropped.

"I hope that's only one step toward relaxing the visa regime between our two countries," he said.