Stockholm, Asharq Al-Awsat—Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf will meet with Foreign Minister Margot Wallström on Monday in a bid to contain an ongoing diplomatic spat between Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
A statement from the Swedish Royal Court on Saturday said the King would meet with Wallström in order “to help contribute in finding a solution to the situation,” which was precipitated by comments made by the foreign minister earlier this month criticizing Saudi Arabia’s judiciary.
It said the King is hoping to open a “new page” in relations with Riyadh in order to smooth over the fallout from the row, adding that he had a “historic” relationship with Saudi Arabia. King Carl was among the foreign leaders and dignitaries who visited Riyadh in January to pay their condolences following the death of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz.
Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Sweden on March 10 following Wallström’s comments, which the Kingdom said “amounted to interference” in its internal affairs, “in violation of international covenants and diplomatic conventions.”
The Saudi cabinet then announced on March 16 it would be “reconsidering” its relationship with Stockholm as a result of the row. This was followed three days later by an announcement that Riyadh would stop issuing business visas to Swedish citizens or renewing current visas for those residing in the Kingdom.
On Wednesday, the Swedish government met for talks with the country’s business leaders, who are concerned the spat could damage their interests in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world.
Sweden exported some 1.3 billion US dollars’ worth of goods to Saudi Arabia in 2014, according to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. Swedish companies currently operating in the Kingdom include car maker Volvo, global clothes chain H&M, and furniture retailer IKEA, among others.
Andreas Åström, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce’s communications director, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday the current visa ban was already damaging the interests of more than 300 business leaders from Sweden with businesses or investments in the Kingdom.
Even before the row began, Swedish business leaders, including those from Volvo and H&M, called on the Swedish government earlier this month not to cause problems with Riyadh, following Stockholm’s decision to cancel an ongoing defense agreement between the two countries.
Leif Johansson, the chairman of Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson, warned that tensions with Saudi Arabia could lead to further damage to Swedish interests in the Arab world, warning Stockholm not “to make an enemy of the Arab League.”