Saudi: Gulf rift bigger than air rights, cannot be resolved at ICAO

Published: 11:35 PM, June 15, 2017
Updated: 5:30 AM, June 16, 2017

MONTREAL - Saudi Arabia, one of four Arab powers that have cut ties with Qatar, said on Thursday that the rift was a bigger political issue than airspace rights and could not be resolved at the U.N.'s aviation agency, according to a source familiar with talks.

Qatar asked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to intervene after its Gulf neighbors closed their airspace to Qatar flights last week as part of economic sanctions.

The ICAO, which regulates international air travel under the Chicago Convention, brought together transport ministers and aviation officials from the Gulf states and Egypt at its headquarters to help resolve the dispute.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and Iran. The UAE has also decided to blacklist Qatari individuals and entities.

Saudi Transport Minister Suleiman al-Hamdan told ICAO members "this is something that's bigger than ICAO," according to the source, who declined to be identified because the talks are confidential.

Qatar, whose delegation was led by its Ottawa-based ambassador, was not present at the meeting. Al-Hamdan could not be reached for comment, and an ICAO spokesman could not comment.

Qatar is asking the ICAO council to resolve the conflict, using a dispute resolution mechanism under the Chicago Convention, which governs airspace usage and is overseen by the U.N agency. The ICAO does not impose binding rules, but wields clout through safety and security standards that are usually followed by its 191-member countries.

Article 84 says that if two states cannot resolve a dispute related to the Chicago Convention through negotiation, one can ask the council to settle it. Members involved in the dispute are not allowed to vote on the matter. A council ruling can be appealed to an ad-hoc tribunal.

The Saudi delegation said on Thursday that Qatar itself is defying 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.

It was not known what the Saudis meant, nor how Council members reacted to the Saudi message.

The Montreal meeting is the first high-level gathering of countries involved in the Gulf crisis. There have been no direct talks between Qatar and its neighbors. REUTERS