Gulf states ministers meet to discuss airspace logjam

Reuters , Thursday 15 Jun 2017

Gulf states transport ministers and aviation officials kicked off a meeting on Thursday at the U.N. aviation agency's headquarters in Montreal to discuss the airspace standoff resulting from the Arab world's biggest powers decision to cut ties with Qatar.

Any direct talks would be the first since the diplomatic row erupted last week that led to the economic isolation of Qatar.

Qatar had asked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to intervene after its Gulf neighbours closed their airspace to Qatar flights, but some sources were sceptical about finding a quick solution.

The Saudi transport minister arrived at the ICAO headquarters on Thursday, however, a member of the country's delegation said they would not be meeting directly with the Qatar representatives.

Qatar is expected to meet separately with council members and ICAO president, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

One of the sources said the talks are expected to last for two days.

Qatar has indicated that it will ask the council to resolve the conflict, using a dispute resolution mechanism under the Chicago Convention, which is overseen by ICAO. The agency does not impose binding rules, but wields clout through safety and security standards that are usually followed by its 191-member countries.

One of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the private talks, said the airspace dispute would be difficult to resolve because it is a symptom of a larger row between the countries.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt last week severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran. The UAE has also decided to blacklist Qatari individuals and entities.

ICAO - a U.N. agency that regulates international air travel under the Chicago Convention - had said it would host talks of ministers and senior officials from Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt to seek a "consensus-based solution" that addressed "current regional concerns."

In 1971, India closed its airspace to Pakistan in a row over the hijacking of a plane by Kashmir separatists. India complained to ICAO that its rights had been infringed under both post-World War II aviation agreements – the Chicago Convention and the separate International Air Transit Services Agreement, which guarantees transit rights.

The ICAO Council, however, merely encouraged the two sides to settle their differences, according to a history of the agency by Canadian academic David Mackenzie.


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