OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is finding himself isolated over Canada’s dispute with Saudi Arabia as no major Western nation has come forward in his support and two of Ottawa’s closest allies – US and UK – have called for restrain.
Tensions have been high between the two countries since Monday, when Riyadh expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments.
Riyadh also said it will relocate thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to other countries, while state airline Saudia announced it was suspending flights to Toronto.
The kingdom was angry at Ottawa for openly denouncing a crackdown on rights activists in Saudi Arabia.
But on Wednesday, Trudeau stood firm.
“Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” he said.
Although, Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, had “a long conversation” on Tuesday with her counterpart Adel al-Jubeir to try to resolve the dispute but what is strange in all this, is silence of major Western nations.
Like so many things in politics, it all boils down to the money, said one expert.
“There is an attempt by the Saudis to create some fear and rattle some of those Western governments into not supporting Canada because they may be cut out or shut out from some potential Saudi economic deals and the big boom that it’s undertaking,” said Bessma Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo specializing in Saudi relations told.
“Saudi Arabia is the largest weapons purchaser in the world, so any company or country in the world that sells arms, as does Canada, is likely to be looking into how this is going to affect bilateral trade ties.”
In its statement to reporters, the UK Foreign Office offered just three lines that urged restraint and described both Canada and Saudi Arabia as “close partners.”
The US has also refused to get involved and called both countries close allies.
“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them; they need to resolve it together,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday.
The European Union also preferred to not get involved in this high profile issue. “We don’t comment on bilateral relations” and that “we are in favor of a dialogue,” said EU spokesperson.
Foreign affairs experts are of the view that it would be difficult for Canada to ‘contain the situation and stop things from escalating further.’ Neither Canada nor Saudi Arabia has room to back down, said David Chatterson, former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.