October 24, 2018 / 11:58 AM / 19 days ago

Germany mulling whether to stop approved arms exports to Saudi

BERLIN (Reuters) - Intensive discussions are underway in the German government on how to deal with arms exports to Saudi Arabia that have already been approved but not yet delivered, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Monday to halt all German arms exports to Saudi Arabia until the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is cleared up.

Asked whether this included arms exports that had already been approved but not yet delivered, Seibert told reporters: “Regarding the question of how to deal with permits already granted, or goods that have not yet been delivered, there are intensive discussions in the government on this at the moment, and we will have to examine this very carefully.”

Seibert said the review would be completed in the coming days, looking carefully at the arms sales from both a political and legal perspective. “We’re not talking about weeks or months.”

A spokesman for the economy ministry said German officials were in close touch with other European countries about the issue, but declined to provide any details about progress in Berlin’s push to ensure a unified European response.

“We’re working on it,” the spokesman said.

Germany has been more outspoken than other countries about stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday refused to take questions about halting arms sales. From 2008-17, Saudi Arabia was the second-biggest purchaser of French arms, with deals totalling more than 11 billion euros.

German weapons account for under 2 percent of Saudi Arabia’s arms purchases.

Merkel’s centre-left coalition government has slowed approvals for all arms exports since taking office in March, an industry source said, reflecting widespread scepticism among a public whose views are still coloured by Germany’s Nazi past.

A poll released Wednesday by Die Welt newspaper showed that 65 percent of Germans believed Germany should stop doing business with Saudi Arabia.

The economics ministry said the government approved arms exports valued at 2.57 billion in the first half of the year, about 1 billion euros less than in the same period of 2017, but said a single large order could cause wide variations.

Sales to the European Union, NATO and other close allies accounted for 1 billion euros of total arms exports approved in the first half, while sales to other countries such as Algeria and Saudi Arabia reached 1.54 billion euros, the ministry said.

Writing by Paul Carrel and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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