Sweden Tries To Limit Damage With Saudis

Sweden Tries To Limit Damage With Saudis

Sweden is moving swiftly to defuse the potential for a catastrophic nose-dive in trade with Arab nations by proposing bridge-building and damage-limitation diplomatic talks.

The moves come in the wake of the dramatic fallout over the ruling Socialist-led government’s decision not to renew a five-year defense-industrial cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Tensions between Sweden and Middle Eastern countries heightened following remarks by senior Swedish government officials, including Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, which described Saudi Arabia’s track-record on social and legal freedoms as “oppressive” and “medieval.”

The response from Arab nations was swift. Wallström’s invitation to address a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on March 9 was canceled. In protest, Saudi Arabia and the UAE recalled their ambassadors from Sweden. Moreover, Saudi Arabia notified Sweden that it has stopped issuing business visas to Swedish nationals and companies, a move that Sweden fears other Arab states will follow.

Wallström has defended herself from criticism from Arab nations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The minister contends that her comments of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record was not an attack on Islam.

“We have very many Muslims in Sweden. This government will do everything it can to restore our relationship with the Saudi government,” she said. “We intend to use all our diplomatic tools to ensure that we can restore our bilateral relationship.”

Battling criticism from political quarters and industry leaders in Sweden, Socialist Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s Cabinet has turned to the cross-party National Advisory Council (NAC) for strategic direction on how best to overcome the present crisis with Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

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