Canada is planning to seek help from the UAE and Britain to help defuse a row with Saudi Arabia as Riyadh steps up its freeze on business ties with Ottawa.
On Wednesday, the kingdom said it was cancelling all medical treatment programmes in Canada and was moving citizens to hospitals outside the country.
“The key is to work with allies and friends in the region to cool things down, which can happen quickly” a source close to the Trudeau government told Reuters. The source said Canada “plans to seek help from the United Arab Emirates and Britain” in easing tensions with Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom has moved to expel the ambassador, suspend flights, trade and scholarships with Canada after a tweet by Ottawa's foreign minister on Friday called for the immediate release of detained activists.
Riyadh considered the statement a violation of Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty, and has since Sunday taken retaliatory action.
On Tuesday, Saudi’s state wheat agency told traders it had stopped buying Canadian wheat and barley.
Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told The National that "any diplomacy will need to be quiet, and it will not be quick". She mentioned the complexity of the issues at hand, and the growing gap between the sides.
“Saudi Arabia has taken a very public stand emphasising the decisiveness of their leadership in defending their sovereignty,” Ms Diwan said. “They have mobilised the vocal support of their regional allies … they will want Canada to fold, and the Canadians have shown no indication they will retract their defence of human rights,” she said.
The UAE’s close relations with Saudi Arabia will help in any mediation efforts, said Ms Diwan. Arab countries, including UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait, Jordan, and Mauritania, have issued statements against interference in domestic affairs in the last 48 hours. The General Secretariats of the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council have also adopted similar statements.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert avoided taking a side in the dispute. “It’s up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out,” she said on Tuesday. Calling them “friends and partners”, Ms Nauert said that both sides “need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.”
The US official mentioned private discussions that the Washington had held with Saudi Arabia over the matter.
“We would encourage the government of Saudi Arabia overall to address and respect due process,” Ms Nauert said.
The Saudi cabinet met in Neom on Tuesday, where it doubled down against Canada, reaffirming "its absolute rejection" of Ottawa's stance, according to Emirati state news agency Wam.
In Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported that the kingdom's government had briefed 105 foreign ambassador in the country on its position in the dispute. The Saudi foreign ministry has also launched a special operations room to follow up and support Saudi students in Canada after measures to transfer them from the country’s universities.