BERLIN (Reuters) - The new leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has accused the Social Democrats (SPD) of jeopardizing Germany’s defense industry and jobs by refusing to soften its stance on arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia.
The SPD, junior party in the ruling coalition, on Monday said it would extend a unilateral freeze in German arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite pressure by Britain and France to reverse course and the risk of compensation claims.
Already concerned about Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, the two political blocs agreed after the October killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul to ban future arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
But they are at odds over whether to extend a temporary halt in deliveries of previously approved kit that is due to expire on March 9.
The left-leaning SPD is keen to avoid further losses among German voters who are generally cautious on arms sales. Experts say the dispute is unlikely to be resolved before European elections in May and several state elections.
Kramp-Karrenbauer told the RND newspaper chain the coalition had agreed to hold the German arms industry to stricter rules, but said it was “fundamentally wrong to interpret those rules in such a way that essentially reduces exports to nothing”.
If that was its goal, the SPD should come clean and clearly explain their intentions to the affected companies and their workers, she said.
Britain and France have urged Germany to exempt big defense projects from the moratorium or face damage to its commercial credibility.
Britain is fighting to preserve a pending 10 billion pound sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh, whose loss could affect the results of top UK defense firm BAE Systems.
France has also threatened to scrap some joint weapons development programs unless Germany agrees to a legally binding agreement to only block each other’s exports when their “direct interests or national security are compromised.”
Kramp-Karrenbauer said the SPD’s actions could lead to Germany’s exclusion from future work and said it was “highly problematic” that Germany’s strict export controls laws threatened a joint security program. “The result is that such projects will take place in the future without Germany.”
Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said they wanted to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries by developing a joint arms industry and agreeing a common stance on weapons exports.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Angus MacSwan