Germany extends ban on Saudi Arabia arms sales until end of March

Germany on Wednesday, March 6 extended a temporary, disputed ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but only until the end of the month.

In October, Berlin froze sales of military equipment to countries involved in the Yemen conflict following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It has since faced protests by European Union partners because the ban, originally imposed until March 9, has impacted joint defense projects such as the Eurofighter and Tornado jets.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that the export ban had been extended by three weeks until the end of March.

“We decided this with a view to developments in Yemen,” he said after a meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet. “We believe that the Yemen war must end as soon as possible.”

About 10,000 people are officially estimated to have been killed in the Yemen war since March 2015, though rights groups say the death toll is much higher.

Germany’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia topped $105 million (€92.9 million) last year. Polls show that around two thirds of German citizens reject weapons exports.

Merkel’s government has faced political pressure at home over weapons sales, which include Leopard tanks used by Turkey to fight Kurdish militias.

But it has also faced increasing protests from European partners including France and the United Kingdom over the issue.

French President Emmanuel Macron last year dismissed Germany’s call for other countries to join in an export freeze to Saudi Arabia, saying it was “pure demagoguery to call for a halt.”

And U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt last month voiced “deep concern” that Berlin’s stance damaged Europe’s defense industry and its “ability to meet its NATO commitments,” in a letter to Maas reported on by Spiegel Online.

On November 22, Finland said it would not allow new arms export authorizations to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates over the situation in Yemen, following a decision by Denmark’s foreign minister to suspend exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia due to concerns over the Yemen war and Khashoggi’s murder.

On November 9, Norway said it would freeze all defense material export licenses to Saudi Arabia, including those for dual-use items.

But some countries have stuck by the kingdom rather than use lucrative arms deals. In September, Spain said it will go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, after earlier saying it would block the sale. The u-turn came amid concerns that cancellation of the deal could have jeopardized a €1.8 billion order of five Corvette warships.

Despite all the agonizing, Germany is among the world’s top arms exporters, a group led by the United States that also includes Russia, China, France and the U.K.

Merkel’s governments have approved tens of billions of euros worth of arms exports, including to nations outside E.U. and NATO that are accused of human rights abuses or are engaged in conflicts.

With reporting from AFP

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