U.S. urges Canada and Saudi Arabia to resolve dispute

State Department urges Canada and Saudi Arabia to use diplomacy to resolve their dispute over arrest of activists.

Elad Benari,

State Department building
State Department building

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday urged Canada and Saudi Arabia to use diplomacy to resolve their dispute over the arrest of activists in the Arab kingdom, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, according to Reuters.

“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them, they need to resolve it together,” Nauert said in a briefing.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced it had suspended new trade and investment with Canada, gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada, after the Canadian foreign ministry urged Riyadh to release arrested civil rights activists.

On Monday, Saudi Arabian Airlines announced it would be suspending flights to and from Toronto amid the kingdom’s diplomatic row with Canada.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticized Canada’s call for the country to free civil society activists that have been arrested.

The United States has spoken to the Arab state about human rights and other issues, Nauert said. Canada planned to seek help from United Arab Emirates and Britain, sources told Reuters.

Asked why Washington had not sided with its northern neighbor in the dispute, Nauert said the United States had discussed the tensions with Saudi Arabia.

“We would encourage the government of Saudi Arabia overall to address and respect due process and also publicize information on some of its legal cases,” she added, according to Reuters.

The Saudi move came two days after Global Affairs Canada issued a statement criticizing the arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi. Samar Badawi is the sister-in-law of Raif Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen.

Raif Badawi is serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws with his liberal blog. He also was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over 20 installments, and fined $266,000.

Saudi Arabia's supreme court in 2015 upheld the sentence against Badawi, who ran a website called Free Saudi Liberals and has been in custody since 2012.