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Saudi Arabia-Canada row leaves US in tight diplomatic spot

By Agencies - Aug 08,2018 - Last updated at Aug 08,2018

WASHINGTON/HAMBURG — The sharp diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada has left Washington — partners and allies of both — in a bind, but the State Department on Tuesday nevertheless urged Riyadh to respect due process for detained activists.

Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and cut off trade ties with Ottawa after the US neighbour denounced a crackdown on rights activists in the kingdom.

A State Department spokeswoman told Agence Press-Presse that Washington was aware of the situation, noting: “Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close partners of the United States.”

She said that Washington has asked Riyadh for more information about the cases of several detained activists.

“The United States supports respect for internationally recognised freedoms and individual liberties including dissent and due process,” said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be named.

“We continue to encourage the government of Saudi Arabia to ensure all are afforded due process and to provide information on the charges and case status of legal actions against activists.”

Saudi Arabia notably was angry with Canada for demanding that Riyadh “immediately release” some of the detained activists.

It has suspended scholarships for Saudi students in Canada and plans to relocate them to other countries, and the state airline Saudia is suspending flights to Toronto.

In a related development, Saudi Arabia’s main state wheat buying agency has told grains exporters it will no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley in its international tenders.

European traders said on Tuesday, as a diplomatic dispute between the two countries escalates, Reuters reported.

Traders said they had received an official notice from the Saudi Grains Organisation (SAGO) about its decision. Canada on Monday refused to back down in its defence of human rights after Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment and expelled the Canadian ambassador in retaliation for Ottawa’s call to free arrested Saudi civil society activists.

“As of Tuesday Saudi Grains Organisation [SAGO] can no longer accept milling wheat or feed barley cargoes of Canadian origin to be supplied,” a copy of the notice seen by Reuters said.

One European trader said it was not clear if the decision involved only new purchases or delivery of previously agreed contracts. “But I would not deliver Canadian grains to Saudi Arabia now, even on previous contracts”, the trader added. Another trader said: “This is to me clearly part of the diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada, there is no other reason”.

The SAGO agency usually gives sellers the freedom to select the origin of wheat purchased in its international tenders, generally specifying it must be sourced from the European Union, North America, South America or Australia.

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