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Diplomacy

Canada asks Germany and Sweden for help resolving diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia

Both European nations have previously been hit by a Saudi backlash after calling out rights abuses in the way that Canada did

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 2:47pm

Canada is quietly nudging allies including Germany and Sweden for help with resolving its row with Saudi Arabia, a government source confirmed Thursday.

The senior official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the diplomacy, said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland had spoken with her counterparts in the two European nations.

Germany and Sweden previously were targets of Saudi backlashes for calling out the kingdom over human rights abuses.

Freeland sought to understand how they resolved those disputes, and asked for their support, the official said. Ottawa also planned to reach out to regional heavyweight the United Arab Emirates and Britain, which has strong historical ties to Saudi Arabia.

Women’s rights advocates, charitable organisations, and civil rights groups, meanwhile, urged the international community “to join Canada in calling for the unequivocal respect of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”

They also called for Riyadh to “immediately release” women activists in detention, and commended Freeland “for her uncompromising stand for human rights, and for her bold leadership in walking the talk on women’s rights globally.”

“We join Canada in urging Saudi Arabia to release women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada,” said the statement signed by 22 non-governmental groups and individuals, including the Nobel Women’s Initiatve, Oxfam, and Lawyers without Borders.

Tensions have been high since Monday, when Riyadh expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments after Ottawa denounced a crackdown on rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood firm, saying: “Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights … at home and abroad, wherever we see the need.”

“Canadians expect that, and indeed people around the world expect that leadership from Canada,” he said.

Trudeau noted that Freeland had “a long conversation” on Tuesday with her counterpart Adel al-Jubeir to try to resolve the dispute.

“Diplomatic talks continue,” he said.

Canada has been disappointed that Western powers including the United States – a key ally of Saudi Arabia – did not publicly support Ottawa.

“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them. They need to resolve it together,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing on Wednesday.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Stockholm over criticism by the Swedish foreign minister of Riyadh’s human rights record.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported that Saudi Arabia was scaling back its dealings with some German companies amid a diplomatic spat with Berlin.

The move came after Germany’s foreign minister last November remarked that Lebanon was a “pawn” of Saudi Arabia after the surprise resignation of its Prime Minister Saad Hariri while in Riyadh.