A diplomatic row between Riyadh and Ottawa triggered by Canadian concerns over human rights in Saudi Arabia will not have any impact on Saudi oil supplies to Canada, its energy minister said on Thursday.
The oil-rich kingdom has reacted with anger to a series of tweets by Canada’s foreign affairs minister and Global Affairs Canada, urging Saudi authorities to “immediately” release jailed women’s rights activists.
Saudi Arabia has taken a number of drastic diplomatic and economic measures designed to punish Canada for what Riyadh says is “blatant interference” in its internal affairs, including expelling the Canadian ambassador on Sunday, blocking imports of Canadian grain, and ending state-backed educational and medical programs in Canada.
The dispute has threatened to undermine Riyadh’s foreign investment drive, a campaign already unsettled by a series of assertive political and diplomatic initiatives by the top oil exporter.
Saudi Arabia has a “firm and long-standing policy” that petroleum supplies are not influenced by political circumstances, Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement.
“The current diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Canada will not, in any way, impact Saudi Aramco’s relations with its customers in Canada,” al-Falih said.
Canada’s second largest supplier of crude oil
Despite being a major producer and exporter of crude oil, Canada also imports oil from abroad, largely into eastern Canada. This is largely because there has been little infrastructure connecting Canadian oil supplies in western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan to eastern Canadian markets, according to the National Energy Board.
Saudi Arabia is currently Canada’s second largest supplier of crude oil after the United States. The kingdom accounts for between 11 and 15 per cent of Canada’s oil imports and experts speculate that Canada could have easily replaced Saudi oil by U.S. imports.
Canada stands firm
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed no sign of backing down in an escalating dispute with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters following an event in Montreal, Trudeau refused to apologize for raising human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia and said Canada will continue “to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world.”
The prime minister’s comments came after earlier on Wednesday Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister publicly demanded that Canada withdraw its criticism of his country’s human rights record.
‘Canada knows what it needs to do’
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Adel al-Jubeir said there will be no reconciliation between the two countries unless Canada recants its condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s decision to jail prominent women’s rights activists Nassima al-Sada and Samar Badawi.
The latter is the sister of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife and three children live in Canada and have received Canadian citizenship.
The diplomatic spat between Riyadh and Ottawa was provoked by a series of tweets by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian embassy in Saudi Arabia last week that expressed “grave concern” over the arrest of Badawi and al-Sada and urged Saudi authorities to release them.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that it is expelling Canada’s ambassador in the kingdom and recalling its own ambassador from Ottawa along with freezing all new trade and investment deals.
More sanctions targeting Canada were announced in the following days, including an order for over 15,000 Saudi students studying in Canada to relocate to other countries, as Riyadh ratcheted up pressure on Ottawa.
“Canada knows what it needs to do,” al-Jubeir said. “It made a mistake and has to correct it.”
Continuing to engage with Saudi Arabia
Trudeau said Canada will not apologize for standing up for Canadian values and human rights.
“Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world,” Trudeau said.
However, Canada continues to engage with the Saudi government, Trudeau said.
Freeland had a long conversation with al-Jubeir on Tuesday and diplomatic talks continue, Trudeau said.
“We continue to engage diplomatically and politically with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we have respect for their importance in the world and recognize that they have made progress on a number of important issues but we will, at the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need,” Trudeau said.
With files from Reuters