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article imageSaudi Arabia withdraws ambassador to Sweden in diplomatic row

By Nathan Salant     Mar 15, 2015 in World
Stockholm - A diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and Sweden that has frayed relations between two of the world’s most-influential nations could exacerbate philosophical differences that could threaten cooperation in the battle against terrorism.
While Saudi Arabia’s decision this week to recall its ambassador to Sweden could be an isolated case, there is a danger that it exposes a widening policy divide that can only make the U.S.-led international coalition less formidable.
A spokesman for Sweden’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had withdrawn its ambassador in protest of “Sweden’s criticism regarding human rights and democracy” in the oil-rich kingdom, according to the Associated Press.
The Sunni monarchy was apparently reacting to recent remarks by Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, who expressed opposition to the recent flogging of a Saudi blogger convicted of violating internet censorship laws and attacking restrictions on women’s rights there.
Sweden elected a new government in October that pledged to push a feminist foreign policy.
The two countries have a long history of friendly relations and Saudi Arabia is largest buyer of Swedish-made weapons, the AP said.
But the withdrawal of Ambassador Ibraham bin Saad Al-Ibrahim was the most-recent escalation of a long-running dispute between the two countries that has included preventing Wallstrom from addressing the Arab League and terminating a 2005 weapons deal.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has called Wallstrom’s remarks “blatant interference in its internal affairs,” the AP said.
Saudi media quoted a ministry spokesman as saying Saudi Arabia did not need the approval of Sweden or any other country for its interpretation of Shariah law.
The Sunni kingdom is the only Persian Gulf country that interprets the Koran as barring women from driving, the AP said.
Sweden’s foreign ministry said Stockholm had no plans to recall its ambassador from Saudi Arabia, the AP said.
Saudi Arabia is a longtime U.S. ally and a member of the 60-nation coalition pledged to destroy the Islamic State group that has taken over large portions of Iraq and Syria with plans to set up a new Islamic country.
The coalition includes an array of countries from the Middle East and Europe that have not always had the friendliest of relations.
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