Freeland Lauds Saudi Counterpart Ahead of Potential Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s foreign minister says she might meet her Saudi Arabian counterpart this week during the United Nations General Assembly as the two nations look for a way forward from a diplomatic spat.

Chrystia Freeland, speaking Tuesday at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York, said she has spoken with Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir regularly since Canadian tweets about a human rights case sparked a backlash from the kingdom last month.

“We call each other on our cell phones, and I do want to really recognize the hard work he has been doing -- he’s very engaged on the issue.” She said they would meet this week, before correcting herself to say: “We are hoping to meet in New York this week, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The diplomatic spat, unusual for two Group of 20 nations, pitted Canada’s liberal, feminist foreign policy against a Saudi government looking to make a statement. The Saudis ordered a freeze on new contracts being awarded to Canadian firms, while Canada’s export agency downgraded its assessment of the country. Freeland drew her own line in the sand Tuesday.

“Canada will always stand up for human rights,” she said. “We feel a particular obligation to women who are fighting for their rights around the world” and to those with ties to Canada.

The Saudi move was prompted by a tweet from Freeland criticizing the arrest of women’s rights activist Samar Badawi. Her brother, blogger Raif Badawi, was already in jail in the kingdom and is married to a Canadian citizen.

Freeland demurred on a question about what involvement U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has had in the case, though signaled he may be intervening through back-channels. “Every country has to make its choices about what to say publicly and what to say privately,” she said when pressed on the issue. “I speak with Secretary Pompeo often, and we have a good relationship, and he’s been supportive on a number of issues.”

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