Saudi-Canada row leaves U.S. in tight diplomatic spot

Clay Curtis
August 10, 2018

Saudi Arabia has frozen all trade, expelled Canada's ambassador and ordered its citizens studying in Canada to leave. "In terms of Canada's position going forward, we stand absolutely - with great assuredness - stand by what we have said".

In response, Canada's foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said the government will not back down.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department offered a tepid response to the sanctions that took pains to avoid taking sides, saying it is "aware" of Saudi Arabia's actions and considers both countries to be "close partners" of the United States.

Freeland also said Haidar and her family merit special attention from the government of Canada, adding, "a lot of Canadian civil society has been speaking up for her".

While both countries are friends of the USA, "both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a media briefing later Tuesday.

"The accounts, which were followed by a number of Saudi diplomatic figures, were verified and largely shared government announcements and pro-Riyadh messages". Freedland urged the Saudi government to "immediately release them".

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir said there's nothing to mediate in its dispute with Canada and that "Canada knows what it needs to do".

A Reuters report, quoting a State Department official, said the USA has urged the Saudis to respect due process, in the first comments by Washington since the dispute erupted between Riyadh and Ottawa over the arrest of rights campaigners. Samar's brother, Raif Badawi, is a blogger who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing the Saudi clerics, for which he was convicted of "insulting Islam".

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"Particularly in smaller and rural institutions where many of our Canadian students don't necessarily have the opportunities of living in a large urban centre where they would be exposed to many different types of cultural experiences, it's even more important for us that we bring that kind of diversity to our campus", Weeks said.

She said the European Commission wants to understand the allegations against the activists and to ensure they receive a fair trial.

Bilateral trade amounts to CAN $3-4 billion (US $2.3-3.1 billion) a year, according to Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

York University, meanwhile, said 115 Saudi students are now enrolled at the Toronto university and that it is also awaiting further information.

"The world has many alternatives in terms of supply, and Saudi Arabia continues to be a smaller proportion of that supply".

Saudi Arabia says it will withdraw all of its students studying in Canada in an intensifying rift between the two countries over the kingdom's human-rights record.

"I think it's going to be hard for everybody who is either vacationing, studying, leaving or commuting from Canada to Saudi Arabia", she added.

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