CBSN

Saudi Arabia stops issuing Swedish visas

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia -- The kingdom will no longer issue business visas to Swedes or renew the current visas of Swedish nationals living in the country, a senior Saudi official told the Associated Press.

The official said the move is in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom's recent criticism of human rights and women's rights in Saudi Arabia. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Wallstrom has refused to back down from her comments. Indeed, last week, she was about to deliver a lecture on human rights and women's rights at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, and it was abruptly canceled hours before the speech was scheduled. In a radio interview, Wallstrom said her speech was canceled because of Saudi protests. A day later Sweden's new left-wing government opted not to renew a 10-year-old weapons deal with the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia pulled its ambassador from Stockholm last week, and its regional ally the United Arab Emirates followed suit Wednesday. Saudi Arabia says it considers Wallstrom's remarks as "blatant interference it its internal affairs."

Sweden, one of Europe's most egalitarian and secular countries, has little in common with deeply religious Saudi Arabia. Yet the countries have previously had friendly relations and Saudi Arabia has been one of the Middle East's biggest buyers of Swedish arms exports.

What's not clear, CBS State Department Correspondent Margaret Brennan says, is whether Sweden's actions against the kingdom were intended to be a statement itself or to quiet political upset at home. The Nordic country wants to be known as human rights defender and has been vocal on the subject, but at the same time, it is also relies heavily on arms exports. Sweden's companies are unhappy about the termination of the contract, and thirty Swedish business leaders wrote an open letter calling for the contract to be renewed. The arms deal with Saudi Arabia was worth $40 million to Sweden last year.