Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has canceled his visit to Israel, scheduled for September 11, in wake of the continued tension in relations between the two countries.
Bildt explained that the decision to cancel the visit stemmed from "bad timing" in terms of the ongoing talks between the U.S. and Israel on the peace process. However, a source at the Foreign Ministry said that the real reason was concern in Stockholm that the Swedish minister would receive an icy welcome in Jerusalem.
Relations between Israel and Sweden suffered a major setback following last month's publication of an article in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet alleging that IDF troops shot and killed Palestinians and then harvested their organs. The Swedish foreign minister, whose country now heads the European Union's rotating presidency, refused Israel's demand that the Swedish government condemn the report, arguing that freedom of the press was paramount in his country.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described the Swedish official stance as being "hypocritical."
Unlike Sweden's unwillingness to condemn the content of the article in the tabloid, Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos condemned the decision of a Spanish daily, El Mundo, to publish an interview with convicted Holocaust denier David Irving.
According to a political source in Jerusalem, a senior Swedish foreign ministry official called Israel's ambassador in Stockholm, Benny Dagan, and informed him that Bildt had decided to "postpone" his visit. The Swedes did not ask about an alternative date, which essentially makes the decision a cancellation.
The Swedish official told Dagan that the cause of the postponement was "bad timing" having to do with the peace process. "You are still in the midst of talks with the U.S. and nothing is finalized, so there is no point in coming," the official told Dagan.
Bildt informed the visiting ministers of EU countries of the trip's cancelation during a conference hosted in Stockholm Friday.