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Top UAE official floats face-to-face talks with Harper government

Liberal MP Scott Brison meets with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 27, 2011.

Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khaja

The UAE Foreign Minister is willing to come to Canada if invited by the Harper government to try and personally resolve the tense relationship between the Persian Gulf state and the Conservatives.

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan relayed this during a meeting with Liberal finance critic Scott Brison on Thursday. The two men are attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr. Brison, who initiated the meeting, said the Mr. Al Nahyan told him that he was "very hurt" and "quite insulted" by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "most recent public statements."

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He was referring to an interview Mr. Harper gave to the Sun newspaper chair in which he suggested the United Arab Emirates - which has a contingent of troops fighting in Afghanistan - was using Canada's fight against terrorism to gain a commercial advantage for two UAE airlines.

"But the Minister clearly has great respect for Canada," Mr. Brison told The Globe in a telephone interview from Davos. "He bears absolutely no grudge toward Canada and said that he would like to come to Canada if he were invited by a government."

Mr. Brison said he indicated to Mr. Al Nahyan that he "may have to wait until after the next election."

The Nova Scotia MP - the second Liberal to have spoken to senior UAE officials after the recent visit by foreign affairs critic Bob Rae to the country - says the minister spoke "very fondly of Canada." This, despite what Mr. Brison said has been "a certain negligence and lack of respect" demonstrated by the Harper government.

"He expressed his clear interest in getting things back on track with Canada," Mr. Brison said, adding that their tête-à-tête was not a "partisan discussion" but rather a constructive one.

"In fact, I simply expressed to him that we certainly value the relationship Canada has with the UAE and it would be in the interest of both our countries to resolve issue and to move forward to the next chapter of our positive relations," Mr. Brison said.

The minister did not ask for an apology from the Canadian government, Mr. Brison added.

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The UAE is Canada's largest trading partner in the region with 27,000 Canadians living in the country. Other provinces are cognizant of this and on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urged the Prime Minister to get the relationship back on track.

Relations have soured as a result of the decision by the Harper cabinet to refuse new landing slots to two UAE airlines. As a result, the key Gulf ally banned the Canadian military from using Camp Mirage, the air base it had used - for free - for nine years as a staging hub for the war in Afghanistan. Moving to other bases will now cost Ottawa an estimated $300-million.

The UAE has also imposed costly visas on Canadian business travelers and other visitors.

Mr. Brison has been meeting with senior ministers from a number of countries - including South Africa and India - while in Davos. He was invited to appear on a panel dealing with the future of trade in the Americas, which also included the President of Panama and the Chilean Finance Minister.

Several government representatives - including International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Industry Minister Tony Clement - are also attending the Davos forum.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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