RIYADH: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia at the start of a two-day Gulf tour, in the hope of sealing new energy deals with the fossil fuel exporters.
Scholz, accompanied by a sizeable industry delegation, was received at Jeddah airport on the Red Sea coast by Makkah region’s governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud.
Afterwards, he went into a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He is also scheduled to meet a group of Saudi women, before heading to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday evening and then to Qatar on Sunday.
The chancellor hopes to agree new energy partnerships with the oil- and gas-rich Gulf states, with the loss of supplies from Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
Scholz however is faced with a diplomatic balancing act, as he will have to navigate significant differences with his hosts over human rights.
Scholz’s meeting with the Saudi crown prince is seen as particularly sensitive.
Until recently, Prince Mohammed was regarded as a pariah in the West due to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The German government strongly condemned the journalist’s murder and would not be “editing” its position, government sources indicated ahead of the tour.
Saudi Arabia’s importance as a fossil fuels exporter and regional power meant a “solid working relationship” was needed with the crown prince, a government source explained.
The 37-year-old Prince Mohammed was likely to steer the country through “the next 10, 20 or 30 years”, he added.
Berlin wants to extend cooperation on new technologies such as green hydrogen produced using renewable energy, which Germany could import in vast quantities from the Gulf states, said government sources.
The chancellor would also seek to strengthen political cooperation with the regional powers, courted on the other side by Russia and China.
“We have to work with Saudi Arabia if we want to sort out, for example, the question of the war in Yemen or tackle the Iranian question,” the government source said.
On Sunday morning, Scholz will meet with UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Later that day, the chancellor will travel to gas-rich Qatar to hold talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2022