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Germany looks to extend Saudi arms ban, despite French, British protests

German chancellor Angela Merkel (L) agreed to a ban on future Saudi arms sales [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 25 February, 2019

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Social Democratic Party (SPD) politicians in the German ruling coalition will seek to extend a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite pressure from Britain and France
Social Democratic Party (SPD) politicians in the German ruling coalition will seek to extend a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite pressure from the UK and France whose lucrative weapons deals with Riyadh have been hurt by Berlin's moratorium.

The ban, which expires on 9 March, has been in place since shortly after Riyadh's state sanctioned murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October in his country's consulate in Istanbul, which has triggered an ongoing international outcry and scrutiny of the absolute monarchy's rights record.

The SPD want to extend the freeze beyond this expiry date. Rolf Muetzenich, deputy leader of the party in parliament, said his colleagues would fight to maintain the halt on weapons deals with Riyadh imposed in November over the killing of Khashoggi.

"We will push to continue the halt in arms exports to Saudi Arabia beyond the 9 March deadline, since the reasons for the imposition of the moratorium have not changed," Muetzenich wrote on Monday in the SPD publication Vorwaerts.

The SPD and Chancellor Angela Merkel's party which dominates the ruling coalition agreed in November to suspend licences for future arms exports to Saudi Arabia and imposed a temporary ban on deliveries of previously approved equipment, due to expire on 9 March.

As well as the killing of Khashoggi, Riyadh's role in the Yemen war has increased opposition in Germany to arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The UK and France have urged Germany to exempt big defence projects from its moratorium, as both countries have decided to keep selling weapons to Riyadh, ignoring calls from rights group to suspend sales on humanitarian grounds.

Germany last week said it would hold firm on its decision to halt weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, shrugging off British warnings that the embargo could hurt European credibility and efforts to bring peace in Yemen.


Germany last week said it would hold firm on its decision to halt weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, shrugging off British warnings that the embargo could hurt European credibility and efforts to bring peace in Yemen.

"The stance of the government is that we won't deliver weapons to Saudi Arabia at the moment," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after talks with his British counterpart about the decision taken in October over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Any future decision would be "dependant on developments in the Yemen conflict and whether what was agreed in the Stockholm peace talks are implemented," added Maas referring to the Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels.

Earlier Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would raise the issue with Maas, after Spiegel Online reported that the British minister had written to his German counterpart to complain about the arms embargo.

Their differences were laid bare at a news conference following the talks.

"In reality, because the UK has a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, we'd been able to play a very important part in making the Stockholm talks happen," said Hunt.

"And we don't believe that changing our commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia will help that, in fact we worry that it would do the opposite - it would reduce our influence on that process."

In London, the UK's foreign ministry confirmed a letter from Hunt to Maas but did not give details because it was "private".

Citing the letter, Spiegel reported that London had urged Berlin to exempt major European defence projects like Eurofighter or Tornados jets from the weapons embargo.

Both the Eurofighter and Tornado jets contain German components. An export ban has therefore had a domino effect on other European companies involved in building the aircraft.

Hunt had warned in his letter that Riyadh is already seeking compensation from Britain's BAE Systems over the German ban, Spiegel said.

Germany's decision to freeze arms exports has also met with opposition from other European powers, including France, where President Emmanuel Macron had labelled it "pure demagoguery".

On Sunday, UK PM Theresa May said she was commited to Saudi security and refused to heed calls from the House of Lords to reconsider arms sales to Riyadh.

"I will also use this summit to reiterate to King Salman... the UK's ongoing commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the region," she said on Sunday, as she was due to meet a Saudi delegation.

The UK and Saudi Arabia are close allies. Despite recent human rights scandals, the Saudi state sanctioned murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi aerial bombardment of Yemen, London has refused to downgrade cooperation with Riyadh. 

London claims lucrative multi-billion-dollar defence exports allow continued influence and leverage, protects British jobs in the arms industry and secure cooperation against terrorism.

Responding to a query by The New Arab, an FCO spokesperon said: "The UK is committed to a strong and collaborative European defence industry. We take our arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and all export licence applications for Saudi Arabia are assessed rigorously against UK and EU Arms Export Licencing Criteria."

But in an email to The New Arab, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Any aid that reaches people in need must be welcomed. But that can't disguise the role of UK-made arms or the complicity of the UK Government in the bombardment". 

"The best thing that May and her colleagues can do for the people of Yemen is to stop the arms sales and call for an end to this terrible war," he added.

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