OTTAWA – Canada and the United Arab Emirates continued to bury old grudges Tuesday by signing a civilian nuclear co-operation agreement that provides for the sale of Canadian uranium to power reactors in the Persian Gulf country.
The U.A.E.’s visiting foreign minister heralded the agreement as an example to Iran, which is locked in a standoff with West over its nuclear program.
“It’s unfortunate that other countries — and here obviously I’m talking about Iran — do not look at the bigger picture when it comes to civilian nuclear programs,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Iran says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but the West believes it working towards building an atomic bomb.
Canada is eager to export nuclear technology and has signed similar agreements with China and India.
The agreement will allow Canadian companies to deal with designated U.A.E. companies subject to verification by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran has blocked agency investigators, raising concerns that it is hiding a nuclear weapons program.
“They keep on facing these challenges by the IAEA, as we saw just a couple of days ago, by the Security Council, by the international community, when it comes to their nuclear program,” Al Nahyan said.
“I think a good answer would be look at the U.A.E. model.”
The deal also marked a positive step towards healing strained Canada-U.A.E. relations, which deteriorated a year and a half ago when Ottawa refused to grant extra landing rights to two of the Gulf country’s leading commercial airlines.
The U.A.E. responded by evicting the Canadian Forces from Camp Mirage, its military base on the outskirts of Dubai, and imposing an expensive visa requirement for Canadian travellers.
Camp Mirage had been a main staging ground for Canada’s combat mission in southern Afghanistan. The spat with the U.A.E. forced Canada to scramble to make alternative arrangements when it staged its pullout of personnel and equipment from Kandahar last year.
Al Nahyan credited Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird with helping repair relations since being appointed to his new post in May 2011. Standing next to Baird at a joint press conference, he called him “John” and “my friend.”
When relations between the two countries originally hit rocky ground, Baird was Canada’s transport minister. Around the cabinet table, he found himself opposed to granting the U.A.E. airlines extra landing rights, a stance that pitted him against Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who wanted to protect Canada’s military interest in Camp Mirage.
Baird said Tuesday “we were at a difficult point in our relationship” when he became foreign minister, but that Al Nahyan reached out to him after he was appointed Canada’s top diplomat.
Since then, Baird has attended a high-level international symposium in the U.A.E., while his Emirati counterpart’s visit Tuesday to Ottawa was his second in six months.
Al Nahyan played down the fact that Canada still hasn’t yielded to the U.A.E.’s request for extra landing rights for its two airlines. He also said the cost of visas for Canadian travellers was being reduced, and might one day be phased out.
The U.A.E. is Canada’s largest export market in the Middle East, and Baird made clear Tuesday the nuclear deal would boost volume.
Uranium exports bring in a billion dollars annually to Canada’s nuclear industry, Baird said, and account for 21,000 jobs in the sector.
“This agreement provides a number of opportunities for our countries to work together as strategic partners, and for Canadian companies to offer the full array of their equipment, services and uranium supply to the U.A.E.’s civilian nuclear market,” Baird said.
Al Nahyan said the U.A.E. is partnering with South Korea to build four reactors, the first of which is to come on line in 2017.