Five things about Canada’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran and its neighbours

By on January 8, 2016


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OTTAWA—As the Middle East grows more turbulent, Canadian officials have prepared a briefing book for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking at Canadian prospects in the region.

This comes as tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are rising following Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric last weekend. And a Canadian company is planning to sell $15 billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, sparking concerns they could be used to crack down on dissent.

Here are five things from Trudeau’s briefing book.

The countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—may be the wealthiest countries in the world because of their oil reserves, but one day their economies will diversify from energy dependence. And that will open opportunities for Canada in a range of areas, including infrastructure.

The GCC is Canada’s eighth-largest export market and the third fastest-growing export market among Canada’s top 10 customers. Saudi Arabia is the fourth-largest source of foreign students in Canada.

Canada may want to advance human rights in the region but it’s not clear how. A section of the prime minister’s briefing book on the topic is titled, “Support gradual, consensual and social reforms in GCC countries.” The first sentence says: “In a region of turmoil, the GCC countries’ ruling monarchies have been generally stable and resilient.” The rest of the advice to Trudeau—about one-third of a page—is censored.

The Gulf countries are a source of insight on other countries in conflict, such as Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. And they are active in providing humanitarian assistance and combating extremism. “GCC states are seeking to diversify their security dependence from traditional partners, offering a chance for Canada to solidify our position as a strategic ally.”

Canada will most likely lift sanctions against Iran this year. The United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China negotiated a deal with Iran that would see it scale back its ability to produce a nuclear weapon for a minimum of 15 years and significantly decrease its ability to enrich uranium for 10 years. If Iran complies, Canada would have to lift UN sanctions “as early as winter 2016 and as late as summer 2016.”