By Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor
7:02PM GMT 11 Mar 2015
Gulf kingdom's ambassador withdrawn as fall-out from snub to Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström worsens
They are as dissimilar as any two nations in the world, in terms of everything from politics to women's rights to climate. But Sweden and Saudi Arabia have managed to work together when necessary - until now.
The two countries have this week become embroiled in a spat that has led to insults being hurled and highlighted divisions within and between EU nations over their handling of the Gulf kingdom.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Stockholm, as the row, over the country's human rights record, spiralled out of control.
The row began on Monday when Saudi Arabia blocked Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, from giving a speech to the Arab League. Ms Wallstrom had had been specially invited to address the organisation to mark Sweden’s pro-Palestinian stance, and intended to raise women’s and human rights issues.
In retaliation, Sweden took the unprecedented step of saying it was withdrawing from a security and trade agreement with Riyadh - effectively blocking arms exports.
Germany has also blocked a major export of tanks over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and at the weekend warned Riyadh that a court verdict sentencing a writer to 1,000 lashes was damaging relations.
Britain by contrast vociferously backs its traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia, which includes major arms contracts, as it is a fellow member of the coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Ms Wallstrom, a Social Democrat and former European Commission vice-president, made human rights and a “feminist foreign policy” central planks of her platform when she became Sweden’s foreign minister last October.
Sweden also broke ranks with most of its European colleagues by recognising the Palestinian state - most EU countries, including Britain, say recognition should come as part of a broader Middle East peace settlement.
It was thanks to that stance a grateful Arab League invited her to give the keynote address at its summit.
However, Ms Wallstrom has also been among the most vociferous critics of Saudi Arabia over its treatment of women, and over the sentence handed down to the writer, Raif Badawi. He has so far undergone 50 of the lashes, but the rest of the flogging has since been postponed.
He is also serving ten years in jail.
Following Saudi Arabia's snub to Ms Wallstrom, forcing the League to withdraw the invitation even after her speech had been written, the Swedish government announced it would not renew its defence co-operation accord with Riyadh, which netted in $567 million in arms deals since 2011.
The accord was signed in 2005 and renewed by the previous, centre-right government in 2010.
On Wednesday, the Saudi ambassador, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, was withdrawn. A Saudi foreign ministry spokesman said that Sharia law did not "need the approval of Sweden or any other nation".
At the same time, Germany continues to block further negotiations on a long-running proposal to export hundreds of Leopard 2 tanks made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to Saudi Arabia.
The block is upheld by the Social Democrat vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, against the wishes of many of his coalition partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Despite signs of softening, after both countries backed the anti-Isil coalition, Mr Gabriel indicated the extent to which he intended to impose human rights conditions on foreign trade at the weekend as he led a trade mission to Riyadh.
He said the Badawi case might affect future German investment, with many firms reluctant to do business in the country due to public pressure. Opinion polls show most of the German public against any form of trade with Saudi Arabia, with a large majority against arms sale.
“We will make clear that for us this harsh punishment and corporal punishment is unimaginable,” Mr Gabriel said of the Badawi case.
By contrast, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest arms importer last year, is the biggest customer of the British arms industry.
The Prince of Wales is a regular visitor to the country, with whose royal family he has a close relationship.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/11465251/Saudi-Arabia-and-Sweden-in-diplomatic-row-over-arms-and-human-rights.html