Saudi Arabia 'strong-arming EU' to avoid terror-funding blacklisting
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia is likely to be blocked in the coming weeks following pressure and lobbying from Riyadh, which threatened to cut ties with EU member states in case it is blacklisted under the motion, EU sources told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman sent letters to all EU leaders urging them to reconsider the inclusion of Riyadh on the list, one of the letters seen by Reuters showed.
Washington, London and Paris, who are among the top weapons sellers with arms contracts with Riyadh, have also sided with Saudi Arabia.
For the list to be blocked, a majority of 21 states is estimated to be necessary, according to Reuters.
A meeting of national experts in Brussels on Friday is expected to clarify each of the 28 EU states' positions on the matter, before a decision is formalised in the next two weeks.
The listing of the Saudi kingdom "will damage its reputation on the one hand and it will create difficulties in trade and investment flows between the Kingdom and the European Union on the other," King Salman wrote.
Oil-exporting Saudi Arabia is a major importer of EU weapons and goods.
Diplomats who spoke to Reuters said the Saudi lobbying had intensified at a summit earlier this week of EU and Arab League leaders in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
At that meeting, British Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the issue with the Saudi king, the diplomat said, adding that Britain and France are leading the group of EU countries opposed to the kingdom's inclusion on the list.
The diplomatic pressure continued on Wednesday when all EU ambassadors in Saudi Arabia were summoned to a meeting at the finance ministry to discuss the matter, the EU diplomat said.
Riyadh has threatened to cut contracts with EU states if the list is approved, one EU official said.
"They are really rolling out big guns," another diplomat said.
The move comes as tensions between Riyadh and European capitals are heightened over the murder last year of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
"Saudi (Arabia) that has ironically invested much of it's on PR efforts into tarnishing Qatar's reputation based on terror finance allegations, has provided little less than narrative to show it's actually clamping down on illicit financial stream [Sic]", said Dr Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King's College London on his Twitter page.
Inclusion on the list does not trigger sanctions, but it does oblige European banks to apply tighter controls on transactions with customers and institutions in those countries.
It also brings further reputational and political damage to Saudi Arabia and its rulers' agenda.