Löfven on Saudi snub: ‘We stand by criticism’

Löfven on Saudi snub: 'We stand by criticism'
Sweden's prime minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Sweden was right to criticize Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has said, a day after Saudi diplomats barred the Swedish foreign minister from addressing the Arab League.

“Margot Wallström was invited as a guest of honour. Of course it’s a pity it was cancelled but when we see something wrong, like human rights violations, we have to express what we think,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden’s government is continuing to work behind the scenes on preparations for a renewal of a controversial cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, which includes the sale of military arms.  

The Green Party, the junior partner in Sweden’s government coalition, wants to rip up the ten-year-old deal. 

Löfven’s party, the Social Democrats, have indicated they would like to preserve the agreement in some form. Saudi Arabia is a key trading partner for Sweden in the Middle East, but the issue has caused an internal party rift. 

“What we know is that there will be changes [in the agreement],” said Löfven. “What changes those will be is something we’ll come back to.” 

The Prime Minister said the issue would be dealt with “as swiftly as possible”, adding that the government would do what it could to protect Swedish interests.

Speaking on Monday after Saudia Arabia moved to have her speech cancelled, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström told news agency TT:

“The explanation we have received is that Sweden raised the situation with regard to democracy and human rights and that’s why they don’t want me to speak.”

The secretary general of the Arab League, Nail al-Araby, had invited Margot Wallström to speak as a guest of honour at the opening of a summit in Cairo on Monday.

Wallström had planned to explain in her speech Sweden's rationale for recognizing Palestine. She was also intending to speak about gender equality and the role of the Arab League in combatting terrorism.