OTTAWA // Canada and the United Arab Emirates have begun negotiations for a nuclear co-operation agreement, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has announced, in a sign that their relationship is warming up after a diplomatic spat over additional landing rights for the UAE's air carriers.
Baird, who made the announcement after a meeting with visiting UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Zayed Al Nahyan, acknowledged the two countries have had "some challenging times" but said the relationship has improved over the past nine months.
"We enjoy warm relations with the UAE. They are better than they've been and they're certainly going in the right trajectory, in the right direction, which we are very, very pleased with," he said at a joint news conference with Sheikh Abdullah. He also said the two countries have agreed to form a Canada-UAE business council.
Talks to expand aviation links between the two countries failed in 2010, and the UAE shortly thereafter forced Canada to vacate its military base in the country. The UAE has sought more landing rights for its carriers, which Air Canada had opposed.
Asked if the UAE is still keen to have more landing rights, Sheikh Abdullah said his country is "very interested" in diversifying ties with Canada and "definitely I think having more trade between the UAE and Canada and using the UAE as a hub" will benefit both countries.
He said he wished for the nuclear co-operation agreement to be concluded "very soon" and hopes for Canada to be a main supplier for the four nuclear reactors that the UAE is building.
Baird said he also discussed the situation in Syria with Sheikh Abdullah, and announced that Canada has suspended operations at its embassy in Damascus with immediate effect, hours after imposing additional sanctions against the country.
"We'll continue to work with our allies and to work with the international community to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and those backing him and give the people of Syria the opportunity to build a better and brighter future for themselves and their families," he said.
He also said Canada remains "deeply, deeply concerned" about Iran's nuclear intentions.
"We're concerned that the level of enrichment in Iran and the fact that it's putting together all the pieces, should it decide to enter into a nuclear weapon program. That's a concern that Canada has," he said.
Sheikh Abdullah said Middle Eastern and other countries should be transparent about their nuclear ambitions.