- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The State Department sought for a second day to avoid inflaming a spiraling diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada Tuesday, calling on both sides to sort out their differences over a delicate human rights dispute.

While department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said U.S. officials have raised human rights concerns with the Saudis in the past, she stressed that Riyadh and Ottawa “need to diplomatically resolve this together.”

“We can’t do it for them,” she said.

Saudi Arabia moved Sunday to expel the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh and declared a freeze on all new trade deals between the two countries, following Canada’s demand that the Saudis free women’s rights activists and others arrested in the Kingdom.

Critics of the Saudis claim Riyadh is trying to flex its muscles internationally and has overreacted to a comment Friday by Canada’s leading foreign affairs agency, Global Affairs Canada. The agency tweeted that it was “gravely concerned” about certain detentions in the Kingdom, specifically that of Samar Badawi, the sister of a blogger jailed by Saudi authorities.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists,” the tweet said, according to CBC/Radio Canada.

The Canadians have since refused to back down, even as the Saudis claim to they will follow through on threats of harsh trade punishments for Ottawa.

According to Reuters, Saudi-Canadian trade consists largely of Saudi exports of petrochemicals, plastics and other products. The news agency has noted that in 2014, the Canadian unit of U.S. weapons maker General Dynamics Corp won a contract worth up to $13 billion to build light-armored vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa said was the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history.

Ms. Nauert told reporters at the State Department Tuesday that Washington is well aware of human rights concerns regarding Saudi Arabia, but she avoided taking a hard position on the Canada-Saudi spat.

“We have a regular dialogue with the government of Saudi Arabia on human rights and also other issues,” she said, adding later that “we would encourage the government of Saudi Arabia overall to address and respect due process and also publicize information on some of its legal cases.

“This particular case regarding Canada, we have raised that with the government of Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Nauert added, asserting that the United States “has respect for international recognized freedoms and also individual liberty.”

“That certainly has not changed and that’s basically where we stand today,” she said. “But we would encourage both governments to work out their issues together.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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