She couldn’t understand how a unilateral non-extension of a defence cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia – because it was a dictatorship – was an insult. She couldn’t understand how her planned formal speech about women’s rights and human rights – as Sweden’s Foreign Minister and as a speaker invited to the Arab League – was not an insult to the systems of government and a denigration of their judicial systems. Even though she was a Foreign Minister she could not understand how criticising a judicial system based on Sharia was not also a criticism of the religion it was based on.
In any case, the deteriorating diplomatic situation was rescued by a monarch-to-monarch appeal by King Carl XVI Gustaf to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Margot Wallström could not understand her offense and now she cannot understand how the Swedish appeal through its special emissary could be construed as an apology! But her denial that anything said was an apology insults intelligence. Or does she mean that “we didn’t apologise but the silly Saudis thought we did”. She might as well say that the Saudi King now agrees with her statements.
Margot Wallström is among the more experienced and competent members of the Swedish government. But as Foreign Minister, her lack of understanding of the consequences of her statements smacks of incompetence. I have no doubt that some of her statements were more for domestic consumption, since this government is hostage to its green partners (pun intended). But it was more than a little naive for a Foreign Minister to think that such statements would not be taken seriously and at face value abroad.
The Saudi King would never have received an emissary directly from the “socialist” government which had contemptuously dismissed him as a dictator. However he was certainly prepared to accept an emissary and a private letter from King Carl XVI Gustaf. The letter hailed King Salman for “protecting Islam and its holy places” and expressed great “sorrow and regret”. It is not the first time that Swedish royalty has been invoked to smooth over diplomatic issues with Saudi Arabia. Back in 2004 Crown Princess Victoria was sent to Saudi Arabia (also by a Social Democrat government) to save some defence (radar equipment) deals. The Defence cooperation agreement came in 2005 – also under the Social Democrats.
Arab News: Sweden has apologized for the recent offensive remarks by its foreign minister against the laws of Saudi Arabia and hoped for better relations between the two countries. ……..
In a message to King Salman, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven expressed “deep sorrow and regret over the current crisis in the relations between the two countries” while stressing his government’s keenness to maintain healthy relations between the two countries.
Lofven also said the role of King Salman in protecting Islam and its holy places is clear and that his government was concerned over the deterioration of the relations between the two countries following the controversial comment by his cabinet minister.
But for domestic consumption Margot Wallström must now walk the tightrope and insist that what was an abject apology, and accepted as a sincere apology, was not really an apology after all. If she agrees she apologised she upsets the greens and denies moral superiority. If she denies the apology she is insincere and has “duped” the Saudis with her subterfuge.
Expressen: “Naturally, the Swedish government has not apologised for its well-known and long-held positions on democracy and human rights”
The bottom line is that for a Swedish Foreign Minister, an abject expression of “deep sorrow and regret” does not constitute an apology. If a Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister had used such words he would have had little recourse but to resign for having his country deliver such a shameful apology. A Japanese Foreign Minister forced to express “sorrow and regret” would then have resigned and (since hara-kiri is no longer de rigueur) left politics. These are dangerous waters for Margot Wallström and for Sweden. A Foreign Minister of Sweden who is perceived as being insincere is “all used up” and can only damage the country’s affairs abroad.
What I find most reprehensible in anybody is a lack of professionalism. The worst insult I know of is to call a specialist an amateur. Margot Wallström and this Swedish red/green government have been amateur and unprofessional. If Swedish foreign policy is to influence and encourage the development of human rights in Saudi Arabia then this episode has been spectacularly counter-productive.