By Allison Lampert
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Qatar will comply with enhanced security measures for flights to the United States designed to prevent expanding an in-cabin ban on laptops, the country’s minister of transport said on Friday.
The measures, which European and U.S. officials said on Wednesday would begin taking effect within three weeks, could require additional time to screen passengers and personal electronic devices for possible explosives.
“We will respect it,” the minister, Jassim Saif Al Sulaiti, said in an interview in Montreal, where he is meeting officials of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). He did not provide specific details.
Al Sulaiti repeated Qatar’s request for the ICAO to intervene over Gulf neighbors closing their airspace to state-owned Qatar Airways flights in early June. Qatar has also asked for the ICAO to open international airspace over Gulf waters currently managed by the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, forcing Qatar Airways to fly longer, more expensive routes over Iran. The four countries accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and have made various demands on Doha. Qatar denies the allegations.
On Friday, top ICAO officials briefed members of the agency’s governing council on the safety and efficiency of air traffic in the Middle East region. During the briefing, which was closed to media and the public, members were told that the diplomatic rift did not cause serious safety concerns because aircraft operated by non-Qatar carriers could still fly to Doha, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Nevertheless, while no decision was reached at the briefing, ICAO will still hold future talks to discuss new contingency routes for Qatar Airways, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was confidential.
Representatives of the UAE and Saudi Arabia could not be reached for comment on Friday.
ICAO’s 36-state governing council can act to settle the overflights issue presented by Qatar, but such interventions are rare and time-consuming because the specialized United Nations agency usually negotiates disputes diplomatically through consensus.
ICAO cannot impose rules on states, but regulators from its 191-member countries almost always adopt and enforce its international aviation standards.
(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; additional reporting by Katie Paul in Riyadh and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; editing by Grant McCool)