DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia's diplomatic dispute with Canada over its arrest of women's rights activists will not affect the ultraconservative kingdom's oil sales to Canadian customers, the Saudi energy minister said Thursday.
The remarks by Khalid al-Falih show the limits of the ongoing quarrel and may calm some of the bluster surrounding the dispute that suddenly erupted Monday over Canadian diplomats' tweets asking the kingdom to release the detained activists.
A statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted al-Falih as saying oil sales are not affected by politics as there is a "firm and longstanding policy that is not influenced by political circumstances."
"The current diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Canada will not, in any way, impact Saudi Aramco's relations with its customers in Canada," the statement said, referring the state-run oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co.
Canada, itself one of the world's five top energy producers, gets some 10 percent of its oil imports from Saudi Arabia. Bilateral trade between the two nations is $3 billion a year.
Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador on Monday and froze "all new business" with Ottawa over its criticism of the kingdom's arrest of women's rights activists. Among the arrested activists is Samar Badawi, whose writer brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that his nation would continue diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia but wouldn't back down on raising human rights issues.
"Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights," he said.
Saudi Arabia plans to pull out thousands of students and medical patients from Canada over the spat. Since the crisis began, Saudi state-run television and other channels backing the kingdom have been airing programs criticizing Canada and accusing it of jailing "prisoners of conscience."
The sudden decision bore the hallmarks of Saudi Arabia's assertive 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also was the architect of the country's war in Yemen and involved in the ongoing boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations.