London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden on Wednesday, in the latest development in an ongoing diplomatic rift between the two countries.
A Saudi Foreign Ministry statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday said the move was “prompted by remarks made by the Swedish foreign minister that amounted to interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom, in violation of international covenants and diplomatic conventions.”
A Saudi diplomatic source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone, said the comments referred to in the statement were those made by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström last week in the Swedish parliament, in which she criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
The source denied, however, that the decision was related to Stockholm’s decision on Tuesday not to renew a military cooperation agreement with the Kingdom that has been active since 2005.
“The Kingdom has a firm position on any interference in its internal affairs. The recalling of the ambassador is a response to the offensive comments made by the Swedish foreign minister, and this was made clear in the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s statement,” the source said.
In a joint statement, Arab foreign ministers, who have been meeting in the Jordanian capital Amman for an Arab League foreign ministers meeting, also expressed their surprise at Wallström’s criticism of Saudi Arabia.
Wallström had been invited to speak as a guest of honor at the meetings on Monday, in recognition of Sweden’s decision last October to officially recognize Palestine as a state, but her appearance was canceled at the last minute.
Meanwhile, the European Union expressed its surprise at the Arab League decision and has asked the organization to provide an explanation for why Wallström was not able to go ahead with her speech.
“We regret that the Swedish foreign minister was not able to deliver her speech,” European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Tuesday.
She added that EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini would be consulting both with Wallström and Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elarabi in order “to understand this situation.”