June 16, 2017 / 10:28 PM / 2 months ago

Qatar push to reopen neighbours' skies to flights left unresolved

A pedestrian walks past the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters building in Montreal, Quebec, Canada June 16, 2017.Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Qatar's efforts to force its Gulf neighbours to reopen their airspace to its flights were left unresolved on Friday, two sources familiar with the matter said, after Saudi Arabia argued the closure was part of a bigger political rift that could not be fixed by the United Nation's aviation agency.

Two days of technical talks involved transport ministers and aviation officials from several Gulf states and Egypt, along with senior officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialised agency of the UN that supports the development of global aviation.

ICAO cannot impose rules on states, but regulators from its 191-member countries almost always adopt and enforce the standards it sets for international aviation.

Qatar had asked the ICAO to intervene after its national carrier was denied access to its neighbours' airspace as part of economic sanctions. It was the first high-level gathering of countries involved in the Gulf crisis, but there were no direct talks between Qatar and its neighbours.

While the air dispute might come up at a scheduled meeting of ICAO's governing council next week, no decision on the Gulf airspace dispute is imminent, one of the sources said.

"Nobody was expecting a resolution this week," the source added.

Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Neither Qatar's ambassador to Canada, who led his country's delegation for the talks, nor a member of the Saudi delegation could be reached for comment. ICAO had no immediate comment.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and Iran.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Friday in London that a list of grievances involving Qatar was being drawn up and would be presented soon.

In Montreal, Saudi Transport Minister Suleiman al-Hamdan had argued that the row is a bigger political issue than airspace rights and could not be resolved by ICAO, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The Saudi delegation also accused Qatar of violating article 4 of the convention, which calls on members "not to use civil aviation for any purpose inconsistent with the aims" of the international agreement.

Qatar has asked the ICAO to resolve the conflict, using a dispute resolution mechanism in the Chicago Convention, a 1944 treaty that created the agency and set basic rules for international aviation.

Article 84 says that if two states cannot resolve a dispute related to the convention through negotiation, one can ask the council to settle it.

Reporting By Allison Lampert; Editing by Toni Reinhold and David Gregorio

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