PM treads war­ily in Saudi mys­tery

Trudeau has ‘se­ri­ous is­sues’ with re­ports of jour­nal­ist’s killing

Waterloo Region Record - - Canada & World - JAMES MCCARTEN

WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau trod softly Fri­day on the dark­en­ing mys­tery sur­round­ing the fate of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

The prime min­is­ter said only that Canada has “se­ri­ous is­sues” with re­ports the Washington Post colum­nist was killed by Saudi Ara­bian op­er­a­tives in­side Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Turkey.

But he in­sisted Canada has done plenty when it comes to call­ing the king­dom on the diplo­matic car­pet over its dis­mal hu­man rights record.

“We have been ex­tremely ac­tive both in pri­vate and in pub­lic over many years now around our con­cern for hu­man rights in Saudi Ara­bia, and we will con­tinue to be clear and strong in speak­ing up for hu­man rights around the world, re­gard­less of with whom,” Trudeau told a news con­fer­ence at la Fran­co­phonie’s bi­en­nial sum­mit in Ar­me­nia.

He said he broached the sub­ject of hu­man rights dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion last spring with King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud.

“We will al­ways en­deav­our to do it in a con­struc­tive way, but we will be en­sur­ing that peo­ple know that Canada is un­equiv­o­cal in stand­ing up for hu­man rights — ev­ery­where, all the time.”

The in­trigue sur­round­ing Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance has only deep­ened since he was last seen Oct. 2 en­ter­ing the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul.

U.S. me­dia re­ports say Turk­ish of­fi­cials have au­dio and video record­ings that prove Khashoggi was in­ter­ro­gated, tor­tured and killed by a Saudi se­cu­rity team in­side the con­sulate, where he had gone to ob­tain of­fi­cial doc­u­ments be­fore his wed­ding the next day.

A chill­ing New York Times re­port says the Saudis brought a bone saw and a doc­tor of foren­sic medicine to dis­mem­ber the body.

“This par­tic­u­lar case is of course of con­cern, and we join with our al­lies around the world in ex­press­ing se­ri­ous is­sues with these re­ports,” Trudeau said.

“Ob­vi­ously there is a lot more to un­cover on what hap­pened here, so I’m not go­ing to com­ment too much on this.”

The fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has good rea­son to tread softly, given the king­dom’s out­sized re­sponse in Au­gust to a tweet from For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land that called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of de­tained ac­tivists.

Saudi Ara­bia re­called its am­bas­sador in Ot­tawa, put a freeze on trade, can­celled flights to and from Toronto and pulled its stu­dents from Cana­dian med­i­cal schools.

The diplo­matic em­bar­rass­ment prompted with­er­ing crit­i­cism of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment from op­po­si­tion MPs and oth­ers.

But the Khashoggi saga un­der­mines that ar­gu­ment, said Fen Hamp­son, of the Nor­man Pater­son School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at Car­leton Uni­ver­sity in Ot­tawa.

“In some ways, what has hap­pened re­ally has vin­di­cated the ac­tions of our for­eign min­is­ter, to call them on the car­pet for their hu­man rights be­hav­iour,” Hamp­son said.

“There’s more and more ev­i­dence mount­ing that ... we were pre­pared to call a spade a spade.”

One gov­ern­ment source, speak­ing frankly in ex­change for anonymity, said Fri­day that Trudeau’s ret­i­cence to speak out on Khashoggi had “zero” to do with any pre-ex­ist­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ties: “We are still gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence on this and talk­ing to al­lies.”

Free­land her­self has said lit­tle on the mat­ter in re­cent weeks, al­though she did ac­knowl­edge dur­ing a Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions event in New York last month that she had been speak­ing fre­quently by phone with Ab­del Al-Jubeir, her Saudi coun­ter­part. For­eign Af­fairs of­fi­cials say Free­land met with Al-Jubeir in per­son that same week on the mar­gins of the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly, al­though the pair have not met or spo­ken since.

There is, of course, an­other diplo­matic wrin­kle: The United States, which has long cul­ti­vated close re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia and cur­rently has a pres­i­dent whose busi­ness ties to the re­gion are deep and well-known.

Don­ald Trump has also struck a muted tone on the Khashoggi case in re­cent days.

“We’re look­ing at it very strongly,” he said Thurs­day in the Oval Of­fice.

“What hap­pened is a ter­ri­ble thing, as­sum­ing that hap­pened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised, but some­how I tend to doubt it.”

Both coun­tries have a lot to lose fi­nan­cially, as well.

Trump of­ten talks about US$110 bil­lion worth of arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia.

JACQUELYN MARTIN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Peo­ple hold signs dur­ing a protest in Washington this week at the con­sulate of Saudi Ara­bia af­ter the dis­ap­pear­ance of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

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