US stays on sidelines as Saudi-Canada row deepens

Saudi Arabia has accused the Liberal government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of interfering in its internal affairs. It had denounced Canada for urging the release of jailed rights activists.
Saudi Arabia has accused the Liberal government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of interfering in its internal affairs. It had denounced Canada for urging the release of jailed rights activists.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Ottawa turning to the United Arab Emirates and Britain to help ease tensions with Riyadh

OTTAWA • Canada plans to seek help from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Britain to defuse an escalating dispute with Saudi Arabia, sources said on Tuesday, but close ally the United States made it clear it would not get involved.

The Saudi government on Sunday recalled its ambassador to Ottawa, barred Canada's envoy from returning and placed a ban on new trade, denouncing Canada for urging the release of jailed rights activists.

Riyadh accused Ottawa on Tuesday of interfering in its internal affairs.

One well-placed source said the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - which stresses the importance of human rights - 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 the source, who declined to be identified.

Another source said Canada would also seek help from Britain. The British government on Tuesday urged the two nations to show restraint.

The US, traditionally one of Canada's most important friends, stayed on the sidelines. US President Donald Trump - who criticised Mr Trudeau after a Group of Seven summit in June - has forged tighter ties with Riyadh.

"Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can't do it for them," US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

The first Canadian source said Ottawa shared the view of foreign policy experts who believe the Saudi reaction reflected internal strains inside the kingdom, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to push through reforms.

The dispute looks set to damage what is a modest bilateral trade relationship worth nearly US$4 billion (S$5.5 billion) a year. Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia totalled US$1.12 billion last year.

Canada says it does not know what will happen to a US$13 billion defence contract to sell Canadian-made General Dynamics Corp armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

 
 

The Saudi press agency said early yesterday that Saudi Arabia has stopped all medical treatment programmes in Canada and is coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals to other hospitals outside Canada.

Earlier, European traders said the main Saudi wheat-buying agency had told grain exporters it will no longer accept Canadian-origin wheat and barley. Saudi Arabia has also ordered roughly 15,000 Saudis studying in Canada to leave.

Dr Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor and Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, said Saudi irritation at the way the General Dynamics contract was handled also helped to explain Riyadh's response. The deal was agreed in 2014 by the Conservatives, who shared the Saudi desire for deeper relations, he said. But the task of approving the export permits fell to the ruling Liberals, who were lobbied by human rights activists to say no.

The Liberals granted the permits but showed little interest in deepening ties with Riyadh amid growing civil society and media attacks on the agreement, Dr Juneau added. "That for Saudi Arabia was the source of growing frustration," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2018, with the headline 'US stays on sidelines as Saudi-Canada row deepens'. Print Edition | Subscribe