European countries show rising scruples over arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Published October 25, 2018
On Sunday, German Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel said that arms exports to Saudi Ara­bia “can’t take place in the situation we’re currently in,” citing Khashoggi’s dea­th. — AFP/File Photo
On Sunday, German Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel said that arms exports to Saudi Ara­bia “can’t take place in the situation we’re currently in,” citing Khashoggi’s dea­th. — AFP/File Photo

BERLIN: The killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi has prompted soul-searching in some European countries about their sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, long one of the biggest buyers of sophisticated Western weaponry.

While the United States ranks first among Saudi’s arms suppliers, Europe, too, has been selling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the kingdom for decades.

Appeals have mounted in recent days calling for such deals to be halted: On Sunday, German Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel said that arms exports to Saudi Ara­bia “can’t take place in the situation we’re currently in,” citing Khashoggi’s dea­th.

But despite the outrage, no European country has yet taken concrete action to change how business is done.

Spain’s prime minister said on Wednesday his government would fulfill past arms sales contracts with Saudi Arabia despite his “dismay” over the “terrible murder” of Khashoggi earlier this month in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Pedro Sanchez told lawmakers that protecting jobs in southern Spain was central to his decision last month to go ahead with a controversial bomb shipment to Saudi Arabia.

In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May also rebuffed a call from opposition lawmakers to end weapons sales to the Arab kingdom, telling Parliament on Wednesday that “the procedures we follow are among the strictest in the world.”

Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland each accounted for about two per cent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports between 2013 and 2017, according to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI.

France accounted for about 4 per cent, while Britain took a 23 per cent share of the business behind the United States with 61 per cent.

Merkel’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, called on Monday for a common European Union position on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, telling a public broadcaster that “only if all European countries agree would this make an impression on the government in Riyadh.” Even if Germany were to stop the exports, “it will have no positive consequences ... if at the same time other countries fill this gap,” he said.

Britain’s foreign secretary highlighted the difficulty in agreeing on a common EU stance on Saudi arms exports when he pointed out last month that “With countries like Saudi Arabia, countries like China, the way you make the most progress is by talking to them in private.”

“If you talk about these things publicly you lose the access, they say ‘we don’t want to deal with you’ and you put yourself in a position where you have no influence over what’s happening,” Jeremy Hunt told Sky News.

French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Wednesday that Paris will agree to sanctions against Saudi Arabia only if it’s proven they are to blame in the journalist’s killing.

Diederik Cops, a researcher at the Flemish Peace Institute in Belgium, suggested that the European focus on military goods would have been more appropriate years ago in reaction to the Yemen conflict, where Saudi relies heavily on foreign arms and equipment. It may have taken the Khashoggi killing to force a change, he said.

“Most governments are threatening with arms and questioning arms exports because they know that is the most strong ... political pressure instrument they can use at this moment toward the Saudis,” he said.

But, he added, it’s hard to tell if a global initiative on prohibiting arms exports to Saudi Arabia will take hold because of geopolitical and economic factors.

Saudis deny permission to search consulate well

Saudi authorities denied permission to Turkish police to search a well in the garden of the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul as part of a probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, state media reported on Wednesday.

Turkish police this month searched the consulate twice, and the residence of the Saudi consul general, to gather evidence into what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was a “savage murder” of Khashoggi.

Basing its report on the security sources, the Ana­dolu news agency reported that Turkish police “were denied authorisation by Saudi officials to search the well in the consulate garden”.

Turkey is conducting its own investigation into the killing but it remains unclear where the body of Khashoggi is.

Turkish media have reported that the authorities here have audio tapes in which Khashoggi’s alleged killers tortured him by cutting his fingers off before his decapitation.

Turkish police were also hunting for the remains in an Istanbul forest.

On Tuesday, the police searched an abandoned car belonging to the Saudi consulate in an underground car park in the Sultangazi district of Istanbul.

UK revoking visas of Saudi suspects

Britain will revoke the visas of Saudi Arabian suspects involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday.

“The Home Secretary is taking action against all suspects to prevent them entering the UK. If these individuals currently have visas, those visas will be revoked today,” May told a session of parliament.

Britain’s actions follow a similar move made on Tuesday by the United States.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2018

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