British foreign secretary to raise Saudi arms ban in Berlin talks

Jeremy Hunt to raise the question of weapons exports to Saudi Arabia with his German counterpart
British foreign secretary to raise Saudi arms ban in Berlin talks
Britain's foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt. (Getty Images)
By AFP
Wed 20 Feb 2019 04:20 PM

Britain's foreign secretary confirmed Wednesday he would raise the question of weapons exports to Saudi Arabia with his German counterpart after a report said London has written Berlin to complain about its arms embargo.

In London, Britain's foreign ministry confirmed a letter had been sent but did not give details because it was "private".

Jeremy Hunt, taking questions at a forum in Berlin, did not deny the contents of the Spiegel Online report.

Rather, he said that in talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, he would underline the importance of a "strategic relationship" with Riyadh, including in efforts to reach peace in Yemen.

Citing the letter written by Hunt and addressed to Maas, Spiegel reported that London had urged Berlin to exempt major European defence projects like Eurofighter or Tornados jets from the weapons embargo.

Germany might otherwise suffer a loss of confidence, said the report.

Berlin halted arms exports to Saudi Arabia in October over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Both the Eurofighter and Tornado jets contain German components. An export ban has therefore had a domino effect on other European companies involved in building the aircraft.

Hunt had warned in his letter that Riyadh is already seeking compensation from Britain's BAE Systems over the German ban, Spiegel said.

Confirming implicitly that the issue will come up in talks later Wednesday with Germany's foreign minister, Hunt said: "When I talk to Heiko Maas, what I'd say is that the strategic relationship that Britain has with Saudi Arabia is what allows us to have a huge influence in bringing about peace in Yemen.

"In fact I'd go as far as to say that without that strategic relationship it wouldn't have been possible to proceed with the Stockholm agreement," he added, referring to a deal done in the Swedish capital for a ceasefire in Yemen.

"So Britain and Germany have the same objectives but we need to be able to continue that strategic relationship in order to make sure there is a European voice on the table doing everything we can to press for peace."

Germany's decision to freeze arms exports has also met with opposition from other European powers, including France, where President Emmanuel Macron had labelled it "pure demagoguery".

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