Stockholm: Saudi Arabia has recalled its Stockholm ambassador, the Swedish foreign ministry said on Wednesday as the rift between the two countries deepened in the wake of Sweden cutting military ties.
“Diplomatic relations are not broken. But Saudi Arabia’s ambassador has been recalled,” spokesman Erik Boman said after Sweden scrapped military cooperation with the kingdom on Tuesday.
Sweden scrapped a long-standing military deal with the Saudis after accusing the country of blocking Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem from speaking at an Arab League meeting.
Saudi Arabia accused Sweden’s foreign minister yestersday of “flagrant interference” in its internal affairs after she criticised the country’s human rights record, and confirmed that it is recalling its envoy in protest.
Wallstroem’s criticism was “harmful to the kingdom,” the Saudi foreign ministry said, adding that it represented a “flagrant interference in internal affairs, which is not accepted in international conventions.”
“This is not a game. It’s a serious issue that must be treated seriously,” Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Loefven told Swedish Radio on Wednesday.
His party had come under intense pressure to abandon the deal from coalition partners the Green Party.
The Social Democrats refused to cite human rights as a motive for the decision but Wallstroem had said her opening speech at Monday’s meeting in Cairo was blocked by the Saudis for her pro-democracy stance.
The deal involved exchanges of military products, logistics, technology and training. The defence minister said only cooperation in medicine and gender studies would remain.
“In practical terms, there is no military cooperation,” the minister, Peter Hultqvist, told public broadcaster SVT.
“What we have is an open invitation to partake in medical and gender training, but the Saudi side has not shown any interest,” he added.
The deal on military cooperation — signed by a left-wing government in 2005 and renewed in 2010 — has come under domestic fire after journalists in 2011 revealed that Sweden had secretly helped the Saudis construct a weapons factory.
Sweden’s decision to scrap the agreement “is not surprising after such a heated debate,” political scientist Thord Janson at the University of Gothenburg said.
“What surprised [me] more was the signing of this agreement 10 years ago, when Saudi Arabia was... considered a normal country,” he added.
Sebastian Carlsson, press officer at Saab, said other regulations controlled the company’s exports, not the agreement.
“Saudi Arabia is a very important market for us and a good customer,” he said. “How Sweden handles this can affect us.”