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U.N. agency to assess airspace closure against Qatar, host talks
June 15, 2017 / 12:30 AM / 3 months ago

U.N. agency to assess airspace closure against Qatar, host talks

A Qatar Airways plane is seen at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The United Nations aviation agency said on Wednesday it was reviewing a request from Qatar to intervene after its Gulf neighbours closed their airspace to Qatar flights, part of the region’s biggest diplomatic row and trade blockade in years.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar a week ago, accusing it of fomenting regional unrest, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran, all of which Doha denies.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that regulates international air travel under the Chicago Convention, said it would host talks of ministers and senior officials from Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt at its Montreal headquarters on Thursday to seek a “consensus-based solution” that addressed “current regional concerns.”

“ICAO is presently reviewing requests from the government of Qatar to assess the flight restrictions imposed upon it by neighbouring states,” according to an ICAO statement.

Most of the officials attending the meeting are expected to be transport ministers, according to an ICAO representative.

ICAO, which was created after the United States invited more than 50 allies to agree to a common air navigation system in 1944, has no policing powers and has to rely on consensus to enforce its will.

ICAO’s decision to intervene in the Gulf airspace dispute is a rare instance of the U.N. body directly attempting to settle a row between states.

“We are working bring these states together towards a solution which satisfies both their current regional concerns and the global needs and expectations of passengers and shippers,” ICAO said.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have long been major proponents of open-skies air transport agreements which remove restrictions on flying between states.

These policies helped the region’s largest airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, to develop their home airports as hubs linking passengers travelling between the east and west.

The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said it was fully committed to the Chicago Convention but reserved the sovereign right under international law to take any precautionary measures to protect its national security if necessary, UAE state news agency WAM said.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said the closure of its airspace to flights from Qatar was within the kingdom’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from any threat.

Reporting by Allison Lampert; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Denny Thomas, David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker

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