OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is resisting a push by Qatar to move the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization from Montreal to Doha, a government official said on Wednesday.
Qatar proposed at a meeting with ICAO officials on Monday that organization leave Montreal, where it has been based since it was created as a U.N. agency since 1947, an ICAO spokesman said.
Losing ICAO would be a diplomatic embarrassment for Canada. The French-language La Presse newspaper said Qatar had argued that Montreal - in the eastern province of Quebec - was too far from Europe and Asia and suffered cold winters.
La Presse, citing Qatari briefing notes, said the wealthy Gulf state also complained Canada made it hard for delegates to get visas and said Canadian taxes were too high. Qatar says it will build ICAO a brand new headquarters and cover all the organization’s running costs.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has spoken to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani twice in the last two days about the issue, a spokesman for Baird said.
“Our government is working to keep ICAO in Montreal,” said Joseph Lavoie.
“Minister Baird is personally ready, willing and keen to work with the government of Quebec and the city of Montreal to keep ICAO in such a world-class city.”
The lease on ICAO’s current Montreal headquarters runs out at the end of 2016 and the organization is in talks with Canada to extend that to 2036.
ICAO’s 191 member states will vote on the Qatari proposal at an annual general assembly in Montreal, which runs from September 24 to October 4, said spokesman Anthony Philbin. A minimum of 60 percent must vote in favor to back the move.
“To my knowledge it’s the first official request to move the permanent seat that we’ve had since we were established here,” said Philbin, who declined to comment on whether some member states were unhappy with Montreal.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman