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Canada and Saudi Arabia Renew Diplomatic Ties


Canada announced Wednesday the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and appointment of new ambassadors, putting an end to a multi-year diplomatic crisis triggered by human rights issues and Riyadh's detention of activists, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said. This move effectively concludes a tumultuous period that negatively affected commerce and diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman facilitated this diplomatic breakthrough.

According to statements from both nations, the respective leaders initiated last November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok. The decision to restore ties stemmed from both parties' shared desire to foster diplomatic relations based on mutual respect and shared interests.

A significant dispute five years prior strained relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August 2018, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze all new trade and investment transactions with Canada and called back its own ambassador. This drastic response was provoked by Ottawa's critique of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, particularly the arrest of prominent women's rights activists, including Samar Badawi, sister of Raif Badawi, a dissident blogger who has been jailed in Saudi Arabia since 2012. Raif's wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their children took refuge in Canada in 2015.

The murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 further strained relations. Khashoggi, a critic of the Crown Prince’s policies, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence reports suggest that Crown Prince Mohammed allegedly authorized Khashoggi's murder.

However, these punitive measures are set to be lifted, according to a Canadian government source familiar with the matter. Despite this development, the precise impact of the dispute on trade remains unclear.

Before the diplomatic rift, Saudi Arabia was Canada's largest export market in the Middle East. As per the official data from 2021, the total exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to C$2.2 billion ($1.65 billion). Simultaneously, Canadian imports from Saudi Arabia totaled $2.4 billion, predominantly of oil and petrochemicals.

Transportation equipment constituted over 80% of exports to Saudi Arabia.

“Empty chairs at the end of the day don’t advance our interests or human rights issues,” a Canadian government source added, while highlighting the importance of reestablishing diplomatic posts to further mutual interests and uphold human rights.

The reconciliation occurs as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman strives to reposition Saudi Arabia as a regional power, capitalizing on its status as a global energy giant amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Trudeau's former foreign policy advisor and a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, Roland Paris, said, “Saudi Arabia is pivotal within its region. It's an important player. It only makes sense to have ambassadors back in place in order to keep channels of communication open.”

The Canadian government will appoint Jean-Philippe Linteau as the new ambassador in Riyadh, marking a significant step in this renewed diplomatic engagement. Canadian Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly, underscored the importance of this development: “We need to have conversations with people we don't always agree with on everything in order to find global solutions to global problems,” Joly said.

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