Middle East

Canada asks for help in Saudi dispute

Canada is quietly working back channels to prod allies including Germany and Sweden to help resolve its row with Saudi Arabia, a government source confirmed Thursday.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is seeking help from Germany and Sweden in defusing a row with Saudi Arabia
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is seeking help from Germany and Sweden in defusing a row with Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Canada is quietly working back channels to prod allies including Germany and Sweden to help resolve 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 spoke with her counterparts in the two European nations.

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

Freeland sought to learn 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.

Tensions have been high between Canada and Saudi Arabia since Monday when Riyadh expelled Canada's ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments.

The kingdom was angry at Ottawa for openly denouncing 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.