Secret base to be shuttered over failed airline talks: source
Published Sunday, October 10, 2010 9:33PM EDT
The Canadian Forces may be getting the boot from a semi-secret Middle East base, as the United Arab Emirates warns Ottawa's refusal of its repeated requests will "undoubtedly" affect relations between the two countries.
Established in late 2001 as a hub for Canadian operations in nearby Afghanistan, Camp Mirage's existence and location has been an open secret.
Now, sources in Dubai tell CTV News Canada has less than one month to get out.
Steve Staples of the Rideau Institute says the ouster isn't unexpected.
"This is always one of the dangers when you set up secret military bases around the world, and the host country turns around to try to get something gained out of you in some other area."
The "something" in question is commercial landing rights for UAE's two commercial airlines.
A 1999 agreement allows Emirates Airlines and Ethiad Airways to fly into Canada as many as six times a week. But the UAE government says that with 27,000 Canadians living in that country, and a significant trade relationship -- the UAE is Canada's largest trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa -- six flights per week are not enough.
The UAE has demanded that Ottawa allow daily direct flights to several major Canadian cities including Calgary and Vancouver. In response, Air Canada cried foul and Ottawa refused reportedly telling the UAE it would rather give up the base than give in to unacceptable demands.
That led to the UAE playing its trump card.
"The UAE entered negotiations in good faith on the understanding that a solution would be reached and that constructive ideas would be brought to the negotiating table. The fact that this has not come about undoubtedly affects the bilateral relationship," UAE ambassador to Canada Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ghafli said in a statement issued Sunday.
"The Emirates knew we were leaving in a year's time. So they had a period of time where they could apply pressure on Canada and hope to get concessions," Col. Alain-Michel Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations explained.
On Thursday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay conceded Foreign Affairs was in discussions with UAE, even as he refused to comment on "operational matters."
But it appears those discussions failed to produce a result.
NDP MP Paul Dewar says the Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon is guilty of bad diplomacy.
"Why did Minister Cannon basically not return phone calls, not meet with the ambassador?" Dewar told CTV. "I think this was the final straw, they've decided to pull the plug."
The question now is: where will Canadian troops set up next? Analysts say Cyprus, Turkey or Germany are likely candidates.
The Canadian military has already deployed supply missions from an air base in Cyprus to Kandahar. Officials have also asked Pakistan to use its air bases when Canada withdraws forces from Afghanistan next year.
With files from CTV Ottawa's Richard Madan and The Canadian Press