Dog sled diplomacy helps to end rift between Canada and UAE

·Politics Reporter

"Panda diplomacy" has been used to symbolize China's desire for better ties with foreign powers since the seventh century, when the Tang Dynasty sent a pair of the bamboo-munching bears to Japan.

Last month, China lent Canada two panda bears to symbolize their desire for better trade relations with us.

Well, it seems Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird might have just stumbled on to our version of 'panda diplomacy.'

Last week, according to an international on-line portal called The National, Baird took his United Arab Emirates counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, dog sledding at Château Montebello, a luxury resort north-east of Ottawa.

Apparently, the dog sledding trip went so well, it helped end a two-year diplomatic spat between the UAE and Canada.

"This was very much a testament to just how good the friendship is between the two," a source close to Baird told The National.

"Sheikh Abdullah really likes doing outdoor sports. He is very much an athlete and he apparently had always wanted to experience a Canadian winter."

Canada and UAE have had a frosty relationship dating back to 2010, when the Harper government refused to grant requests from Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline for additional landing rights in Canada.

The UAE retaliated by evicting our troops from a Canadian military camp just outside Dubai. The UAE also imposed a travel visa on Canadians visiting the country.

But things seem to be getting better between the two nations, thanks in part to a blossoming friendship between Baird and Al Nahyan, culminating with the dog sledding excursion.

Last Monday, Baird and Al Nahyan announced the two countries are starting talks on a nuclear co-operation agreement, with Al Nahyan adding he hopes Canada will be the main supplier when the UAE rebuilds its nuclear reactors.

Baird, who has spoken before about how his role at Foreign Affairs has taught him the importance of personal relations, admitted Canada and the UAE have had some challenging times in the past.

"Many people said the relationship was going in the wrong direction," he said at a press conference according to CBC News.

"[But now] we enjoy warm relations with the UAE. They are better than they've been and they're certainly going in the right trajectory and the right direction, which we're very, very pleased with."

According to The National, Canada exports an estimated $1.3 billion CDN worth of goods and services to the UAE each year, making the UAE its largest trade partner in the Middle East.

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