First Published: 2015-03-11

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador as rift deepens with Sweden
Sweden scraps long-standing military deal after accusing Saudi Arabia of blocking Swedish Foreign Minister from speaking at Arab League meeting.
Middle East Online

‘This is not a game’

STOCKHOLM - Saudi Arabia has recalled its Stockholm ambassador, the Swedish foreign ministry said Wednesday as the rift between the two countries deepened in the wake of Sweden cutting military ties.

"Diplomatic relations are not broken. But Saudi Arabia's ambassador has been recalled," spokesman Erik Boman said after Sweden scrapped military cooperation with the conservative Islamic kingdom on Tuesday.

Sweden scrapped a long-standing military deal with the Saudis on Tuesday after accusing the country of blocking Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem from speaking at an Arab League meeting.

"This is not a game. It's a serious issue that must be treated seriously," Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Loefven told public broadcaster Swedish Radio on Wednesday.

His party had come under intense pressure to abandon the deal from coalition partners the Green Party.

The Social Democrats refused to cite human rights as a motive for the decision but Wallstroem had said her opening speech at Monday's meeting in Cairo was blocked by the Saudis for her pro-democracy stance in the region.

The deal involved exchanges of military products, logistics, technology and training. The Swedish defence minister said only cooperation in medicine and gender studies would remain on offer.

"In practical terms, there is no military cooperation," the minister, Peter Hultqvist, told public broadcaster SVT.

"What we have is an open invitation to partake in medical and gender training, but the Saudi side has not shown any interest," he added.

The deal on military cooperation -- signed by a left-wing government in 2005 and renewed in 2010 -- has come under domestic fire after journalists in 2011 revealed that Sweden had secretly helped the Saudis construct a weapons factory.

Sweden's decision to scrap the agreement "is actually not surprising after such a heated debate," political scientist Thord Janson at the University of Gothenburg said.

"What surprised (me) more was the signing of this agreement 10 years ago, when Saudi Arabia was more or less considered a normal country," he added.

 

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