The Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister threw cold water on hopes the diplomatic row between his country and Canada will come to an end on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a Council on Foreign Relations forum earlier this week that she hoped to use the meeting as a chance to speak in person with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but insisted Canada’s fundamental stance to defend the rights of women’s advocates was not going to change.
A day later, in an interview with the same organization, al-Jubeir said the only way to end the impasse is for Canada to apologize.
“We did not do this, you did,” he said. “Fix it. You owe us an apology.”
The dispute erupted in early August, after several tweets from Freeland and Global Affairs Canada called on Saudi Arabia to release several political activists who had been detained in late July. It appeared that a translation of the tweets posted by the Canadian embassy in Arabic was what pushed the Saudi government over the edge.
The Middle Eastern kingdom recalled its ambassador, barred future investments in Canada, banned imports of Canadian wheat, cancelled direct flights between Canada and Saudi Arabia, and pulled the scholarships of thousands of Saudi Arabian students studying at Canadian schools.
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Al-Jubeir said Wednesday the students remained in Canada until new placements could be found and that stories about Saudi patients in Canadian hospitals being flown elsewhere were exaggerated because there had only been two Saudi patients in Canada at the time.
But he also said Canada’s tweets were “outrageous” and likened them to being the same as if Saudi Arabia demanded Canada let Quebec separate.
“‘We demand the immediate release.’ Really? We demand the immediate independence of Quebec. We demand the immediate granting of equal rights to Canadian Indians,” he said, referring to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Al-Jubeir added Canada’s ambassador met with the public prosecutor who explained the charges laid against the activists. The charges aren’t about human rights, but about national security, he said.
“These four individuals who are accused of taking money from foreign governments, accused of recruiting people to obtain sensitive information from the government and passing it on to hostile powers, accused of raising money and providing it to people who are hostile to Saudi Arabia outside Saudi Arabia.”
He said he’s happy to talk about human rights at any time, but will not be lectured about the issue.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press