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British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

LONDON: Britain’s top diplomat has demanded that Germany lifts its effective block on major European arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying the move stands to hurt the UK’s defense industry.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to Heiko Maas, his German counterpart, requesting that Berlin exclude the likes of the Euroflighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet from its embargo.

Parts of those jets are made in Germany, meaning that their sale to Saudi Arabia is essentially blocked even though the deals might be struck by defense companies headquartered elsewhere.

Hunt expressed concern about the effect of Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia on both the British and wider European defense industry, Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

“I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defense industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments,” Hunt wrote in the letter to Maas, according to Der Spiegel.

“It is imperative that you immediately remove major European defense projects such as the Eurofighter and the Tornado from the arms embargo,” he wrote in the letter dated Feb. 7. Otherwise, Berlin risks “a loss of confidence in the credibility of Germany as a partner.”

Hunt said British defense firms would not be able to fulfil several contracts with Saudi Arabia such as the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four founding countries — Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain — and is represented by France’s Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which Hunt heads, declined to comment on the letter, although said the UK takes criteria for arms exports seriously.

“We will not comment on the contents of a private letter. The UK’s priority is to find a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict, which is at a critical juncture. We continue to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN to bring together key Yemeni and international actors to deliver a peaceful solution,” the spokesperson told Arab News.

“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.”

An official from Airbus last week said Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia is preventing Britain from completing the sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoons to Riyadh, and has delayed potential sales of other weapons.

Airbus Defense and Space chief Dirk Hoke told Reuters that uncertainty about the issue had undermined Germany’s credibility, and could threaten future Franco-German defense projects.

“This is a serious problem,” Hoke was reported as saying. “We’re facing constraints in many projects, and many problems have been put on ice.”

Germany imposed the embargo in November, saying it would reject future export licenses to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals, which would entitle companies to compensation, but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now, Reuters reported.

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