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Saudi Arabia and Canada to restore full diplomatic ties

Riyadh and Ottawa agree to appoint new ambassadors in the latest Saudi diplomatic blitz
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on 15 November 2022 (AP)

Saudi Arabia and Canada agreed to restore full diplomatic relations on Wednesday, ending one of the last political fissures Riyadh faced over its human rights record following a 2018 dispute over human rights that saw Riyadh expel Ottawa's ambassador and freeze new trade.

The decision, announced by Canada and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry, came after talks last year between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bangkok.

"It has been decided to restore the level of diplomatic relations with Canada to its previous state," Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

In 2018, the Saudi government expelled Canada's ambassador and recalled its own envoy to Ottawa, while freezing all new trade over vigorous calls for the release of activists jailed in the kingdom.

The spat started when Canada's embassy in Riyadh published a tweet in Arabic urging the immediate release of women's rights activists held by Saudi Arabia.

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Although the row pre-dated the killing of Middle East Eye and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi the same year, it underscored Riyadh’s fraught ties with the West and the contentious approach to the foreign policy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

On Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the two countries will "appoint new ambassadors".  A Canadian foreign ministry statement named Jean-Phillipe Linteau as Ottawa's new envoy to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia made no mention of its pick for ambassador.

The reconciliation was based on "the desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and common interests", Canada's foreign ministry said.

Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical fortunes have turned since the Khashoggi murder, which the CIA said in a de-classified report was sanctioned by the crown prince.

The kingdom’s 37-year-old ruler has overseen a sharp crackdown on dissent at home but is also pushing economic and social reforms designed to attract western investment and visitors in a push to diversify Saudi Arabia's economy.

A Saudi pivot? 

On the international stage, Mohammed Bin Salman is being courted by leaders that once vowed to make him a pariah. US President Joe Biden visited the kingdom in July. The crown prince followed up with a diplomatic blitz across Europe a few weeks later. 

Saudi Arabia's political fortunes and state coffers have been buoyed by a rise in oil prices and renewed western concerns about energy security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s top crude oil exporter. Canada, an energy powerhouse in its own right, exported $2.2 bn worth of goods to the kingdom in 2021 and imported $2.4 bn, according to official figures from the Canadian government.

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Canadian imports consisted almost entirely of oil and petrochemicals, the government said.

Canada is the latest country that Saudi Arabia has mended fences with as the kingdom pivots from muscular foreign policy interventions to adopting a mediator role after failed interventions in conflicts like Yemen.

In March, Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ties with Iran in a deal brokered by China. Since then, it has restored bilateral ties with Syria and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it failed to dislodge Iran-backed Houthi rebels despite launching thousands of air strikes on the impoverished country.

Saudi Arabia’s mediator credentials are also being tested in Sudan where it recently brokered a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire with US backing between warring factions.

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