Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AFP):
Saudi Arabia and Canada will restore full diplomatic relations, the kingdom said Wednesday, following a 2018 dispute over human rights that saw Riyadh expel Ottawa’s ambassador and freeze new trade.
The decision, also announced by Canada’s foreign ministry, came after talks last year between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok.
“It has been decided to restore the level of diplomatic relations with Canada to its previous state,” Saudi’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
In 2018, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy to Ottawa, while freezing all new trade over vigorous calls for the release of activists jailed in the kingdom.
On Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the two countries will “appoint new ambassadors”. A Canadian foreign ministry statement named Jean-Phillipe Linteau as Ottawa’s new envoy to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia made no mention of its pick for ambassador.
The reconciliation was based on “the desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and common interests,” Canada’s foreign ministry said.
The latest announcement follows a frenetic stretch of high-stakes Saudi diplomacy triggered by the kingdom’s surprise Chinese-brokered rapprochement deal with Iran announced in March.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has restored bilateral ties with Syria and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it leads a military coalition against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels.
Saudi Arabia is also hosting representatives of Sudan’s two warring generals, and, with the US, brokered a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire that took effect Monday.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading crude exporter.
In 2021, Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to $2.2 billion and imports represented $2.4 billion, according to official figures from the Canadian government.
Canadian imports consisted almost entirely of oil and petrochemicals, the government said.
The 2018 row erupted in the wake of a Saudi crackdown on women’s rights activists.
Canada at the time said it was “gravely concerned” over the new wave of arrests of rights campaigners, including award-winning women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, and called on Riyadh to “immediately release them.”
Even as Saudi Arabia instigates sweeping social and economic changes as part of its “Vision 2030” reform agenda, human rights remain a concern to critics.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia has been criticised for decades-long prison terms handed down to two women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the government.
In 2022, Saudi Arabia executed 147 people in total — more than double the 2021 figure of 69, according to an AFP tally.