WED 16 - 1 - 2019
Aug 8, 2018
The Daily Star
State Department urges Ottawa, Riyadh to resolve dispute
WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS: The U.S. State Department Tuesday urged Canada and Saudi Arabia to resolve their dispute, triggered by Canadian comments expressing concern over the arrests of activists in the kingdom.
“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them, they need to resolve it together,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador Monday and froze “all new business” with Ottawa over criticism of its arrest of women’s rights activists. Analysts say the dispute shows Riyadh will reject any outside criticism and continue to flex its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The United States and the European Union said that they are seeking details about the arrest of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia.
Describing both countries as “close partners” of the U.S., the State Department earlier Tuesday referred inquiries about the spat to the Saudi and Canadian Foreign ministries.
It said it has asked the Saudi government “for additional information on the detention of several activists” and that it urges Riyadh “to respect due process and to publicize information on the status of legal cases.”
Questioned in Brussels about the tensions, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that “we have been seeking clarification from Saudi authorities” over a number of arrests since May.
She said the European Commission wants to understand the allegations against the activists and to ensure they receive a fair trial.
On the diplomatic dispute, Kocijancic said, “We don’t comment on bilateral relations.”
“We are in favor of a dialogue,” she added.
Sources close to the matter said Tuesday that Canada plans to seek help from United Arab Emirates and Britain to defuse the escalating diplomatic rift, as traders revealed Saudi Arabia would no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley.
One well-placed source said the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned to reach out to the UAE. “The key is to work with allies and friends in the region to cool things down, which can happen quickly,” said one source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Another source said Canada would also seek help from Britain.
The office of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland did not respond to requests for comment.
European traders said Tuesday that Saudi Arabia’s main wheat-buying agency has told grains exporters it will no longer accept Canadian-origin wheat and barley.
The row looks set to damage what is a modest bilateral trade relationship worth nearly $4 billion a year. Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia totaled about $1.12 billion in 2017, or 0.2 percent of the total value of Canadian exports. Much of that was tanks, armored personnel carriers and motor vehicles.
The dispute appears centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” detained women’s rights activists.
Among the arrested activists is Samar Badawi, whose writer brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging. He won Europe’s top human rights prize in 2015.
His case has long been raised by international human rights groups and Western diplomats, including Canadians, who have called on Saudi Arabia to free him. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and received Canadian citizenship in July.
In 2015, Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedes after the EU member state’s foreign minister described the Badawi ruling as “medieval” and the kingdom’s ruling Al-Saud family as presiding over a “dictatorship.”
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