JEDDAH: Canada's leadership was “playing into the hands of extremists” when it tried to pressure Saudi Arabia into releasing some people being held for serious crimes, the Kingdom’s foreign minister has said.
Speaking during a multi-topic discussion at a forum of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank in New York on Wednesday, Adel Al-Jubeir said Canada had all the right to criticize Saudi Arabia about human rights or women rights, but it went overboard in “demanding” the “immediate release” of certain detainees.
“What are we a banana republic? Would any country accept this? No, we don’t. If you do this, you play into the hands of the extremists who are opposing our reform process,” Al-Jubeir said.
Stung by Canada’s insolence, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh early last month, recalled its own ambassador from Ottawa, and froze all new business and investment transactions with the North American nation.
Riyadh has also said it was moving all Saudi scholarship students out of Canada, unless Ottawa apologized.
In response, Canadian Minister of Global Affairs Chrystia Freeland has insisted that the issue was about human rights.
During the forum on Wednesday, Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia’s stand remained unchanged considering that Canada has not backed down.
“We did not do this, you did. Fix it. You owe us an apology. Apologize, say you made a mistake,” he said.
“In Canada we became a political football. Find another ball to play with, not Saudi Arabia,” Al-Jubeir added.
He explained that the detainees that the Canadian government had been lobbying for were facing charges of espionage.
He said the Canadian ambassador met the Saudi public prosecutor, who explained to him the charges are not about rights but about national security.
“These were individuals who were accused of taking money from 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 of Saudi Arabia. Some of them were released, others will go to trial and the evidence will be revealed to the world. The Canadians knew that this was not about rights. And for a Tweet to come out in this manner from our perspective is outrageous,” Al-Jubeir explained.