Austria’s Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) has said he is in favour of withdrawing all support from the centre, after it failed to condemn the public flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and chose to remain silent on other human rights issues.
However, the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz warned that Saudi Arabia might relocate the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ headquarters away from Vienna if Austria does decide to close down the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).
Kurz’s warning was highlighted in a special report prepared by the Foreign Ministry at the request of Faymann.
Kurz stressed that Austria would face a series of negative repercussions due to its important economic and political relations with the Arab world, and that Vienna’s reputation as a venue for international organizations could suffer.
The Kronen Zeitung tabloid newspaper reports that diplomatic insiders view the discussion around the centre’s future as a “ridiculous farce” and that relations between Riyadh and Vienna are “as cool as the North Pole - even if Austria won’t admit it”.
The Austrian Press Agency (APA) has quoted ‘informed sources’ as saying that the issue “has been very awkwardly staged”.
Peter Kaiser, the press spokesman for KAICIID, said that rumours that the centre might relocate to Geneva were untrue. “We have no plans to leave Vienna, and on the contrary, we intend to expand the centre,” he said.
The Austrian ambassador in Riyadh has already pointed out some of the possible consequences that would follow closing down KAICIID, which is primarily funded by Saudi Arabia and politically supported by Austria, Spain and the Vatican, the foreign ministry's report said.
Saudi Arabia is OPEC’s biggest oil producer and its most influential member. Its headquarters have been based in Vienna since 1965.