Sweden's eagerness to smooth relations is more than understandable, as Saudi Arabia is a key export market, as well as a major geopolitical player in both the Gulf Region and the whole Middle East. Since Sweden is all set to step in as atemporary member of the UN Security Council next year, the Swedish government quite reasonably seeks good diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia ahead of coming talks on Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Saudi Arabia is also Sweden's single most important trade partner in the Middle East, with Swedish exports reaching 11 billion SEK ($1.25bln) in 2014. In the early 2010s, Riyadh was also a prominent buyer of Swedish arms.
"Saudi Arabia is an important political and economic player with a key role in the development and security of the region," Stefan Löfven said in a statement. "The situation in Syria will be a prioritized issue in our talks. I also see good opportunities for more cooperation in areas like innovation and sustainability." By his own admission, Löfven will also bring up the issue of capital punishment.
Wallström, who takes pride in being Sweden's first feminist Foreign Minister, criticized the practice of sentencing people who "insult" Islam to corporal punishment and prison sentences, calling it "medieval." Wallström also called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship and lashed out against the state of women's rights in the country.
Subsequently, enraged Saudi Arabia blocked Wallström from addressing the Arab League. In the ensuing exchange of blows, Sweden officially scrapped a military agreement with Riyadh, whereupon Saudi Arabia retaliated with refusing visas to Swedish entrepreneurs. All in all, a total of 57 states expressed criticism towards Wallström's moral crusade.
Sweden had also a stormy moment with Morocco, after Swedish parliament voted to recognize Western Sahara, a former Spanish province under Moroccan control since 1976, as an independent republic However, the Swedish government later reversed the recognition, following political and economic pressure from Rabat.
Besides making enemies in the Arab world, Wallström was pronounced persona non grata in Israel. Remarkably, Wallström's first step in office was to recognize Palestine as state.