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Canadian hopes for ‘easy’ end to dispute dashed

We are happy to discuss human rights, but will not accept lectures, orders, says Al Jubeir

Manama: Saudi Arabia has dashed Canadian hopes for an end to their dispute, saying that Ottawa should first fix the mistake it made by apologising.

“We did not do this. You did. Fix it. You owe us an apology … We don’t want to be a political football in Canada’s domestic politics. That’s what we became. Find another ball to play with. Not Saudi Arabia. And that’s why the reaction in our country was so strong. Very easy to fix. Apologise. Say you made a mistake,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said at an event organised by the Council on Foreign Affairs in New York.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was hoping to hold a meeting with Al Jubeir on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York to help mend fences between the two countries after an explosive dispute during the summer.

However, the Saudi minister said his country cannot be treated like a banana republic and does not accept to be lectured to over human rights or given orders.

“It’s outrageous from my perspective that a country will sit there and lecture us and make demands,” Al Jubeir said.

“‘We demand the immediate release.’ Really? We demand the immediate independence of Quebec. We demand the immediate granting of equal rights to [native] Canadian Indians. What on earth are you talking about?” he rhetorically asked, referring to tweets by Canadian officials demanding the immediate release of an antigovernment activist.

“You can criticise us about human rights. You can criticise us about women’s rights. America does. The State Department issues reports every year. The British Parliament does. The European Parliament does. The French Parliament does. The German government does. Others do. That’s all right. It’s your right. We can sit together and talk. But ‘We demand the immediate release’ … What are we? A banana republic?

Would any country accept this? No, we don’t.”

Al Jubeir said Saudi Arabia has been discussing human rights issues with allies and that it was happily willing to do so at any time.

“You can talk to us about human rights any time you want. We’ll be happy to have that conversation, like we do with all our allies. But lecturing us? No way! It’s not going to happen. And enough is enough.”

The minister said that Canadians had been duly informed about the legal case and informed that it was a security case, not a human rights issue.

“We had the Canadian ambassador. He met with our public prosecutor who explained to him what the charges are and said to him this is not about rights, this is 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.”

Some of the suspects have been released as investigations are proceeding while others will go on trial and evidence will be revealed to the world, Al Jubeir said.

“So the Canadians know this was not about human rights. This was about national security, and then for a tweet like this to come out in this manner, my perspective is [it is] outrageous.”

The minister warned that tweets such as the ones posted by Canadian officials could give the wrong signals to extremists.

“You do this and you’re playing into the hands of extremists who are opposing our reform process.”

He said talk about the status of Saudi students and patients in Canada was exaggerated and stressed that Riyadh did not sever its diplomatic relations with Ottawa.

“Students are in Canada until we can find a place to move them, so we did not pull out the students. We have only two patients in Canada. We stopped investments in Canada and we stopped new Canadian investments in Saudi Arabia and we stopped airline traffic to Canada. We asked Canada to take their ambassador back and we recalled our ambassador. We did not cut off relations.”

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