Thaw trip: Swedish PM Löfven heads to Saudi Arabia

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Thaw trip: Swedish PM Löfven heads to Saudi Arabia

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will seek to mend relations with Saudi Arabia when he visits Riyadh this weekend a year and a half after the countries became embroiled in a major diplomatic crisis.


Löfven will meet representatives of the royal family, as well as the foreign minister and the country’s human rights commission. 

Sweden is keen to smooth relations for a couple of main reasons: Saudi Arabia is a key export market for them, and the Middle Eastern country is also a major geopolitical player in the region. 

With Sweden set to take its place as a temporary member of the UN Security Council next year, the government wants good diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia ahead of likely talks on Syria, Yemen and Iraq. 

“Saudi Arabia is an important political and economic player with a key role in the development and security of the region,” said Löfven in a statement. 

“The situation in Syria will be a prioritized issue in our talks. I also see good opportunities for more cooperation in areas like innovation and sustainability.” 

The government said its bid for improved relations did not mean it would stop pointing out human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. 

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm in March 2015 after what it called "flagrant interference in internal affairs" by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström.

The foreign minister had criticized the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for insulting Islam. 

"One must protest against what are nearly medieval methods" of punishment, Wallström said. 

She also called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship and blasted the abysmal state of women’s rights in the country. 

The regional powerhouse then blocked Wallström from addressing the Arab League and fumed over the public debate in Sweden about scrapping a military cooperation agreement. 

When Sweden officially cancelled the contract Saudi Arabia retaliated by temporarily refusing to issue visas to Swedish businesspeople. 

Two high-profile business representatives will join Löfven in Saudi Arabia: Investor deputy chairman Marcus Wallenberg and Maria Rankkam head of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. 


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