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German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Sunday evening that her government would suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the kingdom's alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Photo: UK Parliament/Flickr/cc)

While Trump and Kushner Insulate Saudis, Germany Halts Arms Exports to Kingdom and Calls on EU Allies to Follow Suit

"There is an urgent need to clarify what happened—we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account."

Julia Conley

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday became the first major U.S. ally to take concrete action to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, when she announced her government would halt arms sales to the kingdom and called on other countries to do the same.

Merkel's announcement came two days after the Saudi government admitted—after weeks of denials—that Khashoggi had indeed been killed by Saudi agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul—but that he had died in a "fist fight," despite evidence that the Washington Post columnist was tortured, brutally murdered, and possible dismembered.

"There is an urgent need to clarify what happened—we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account," Merkel told reporters, adding that the country's "albeit already limited arms exports can't take place in the current circumstances."

Germany has sold about $460 million in arms to the Saudis this year, and exports under a current deal were recently approved, but according to the Post, that could be suspended in the coming days. For now, the country will not approve any new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and it is pressuring other E.U. countries to make the same commitment.

"The policy of President Trump in the Middle East, of relying entirely on Saudi Arabia to isolate Iran, may have encouraged the Saudi Crown Prince to believe that there are no limits at all for him." —Norbert Röttgen, German politician

Saudi Arabia is Germany's second-largest buyer of military equipment, but the country is a relatively small supplier of weapons to the kingdom. Its 2018 exports pale in comparison to those of Britain—which has sold more than $6 billion in weapons to the Saudis since its assault on Yemen began in 2015—and the United States, which has a $110 billion deal with the kingdom. 

France and the United Kingdom are the two largest E.U. weapons exporters to the Saudis, and Merkel's government is hoping its new sanctions will encourage its allies to take actions of their own.

"For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance," German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the press. "Because only if all European countries are in agreement, it will make an impression on the government in Riyadh. It will not have any positive consequences if we halt arms exports but other countries at the same time fill the gap."

In the U.S., the Trump administration has showed no signs of taking serious action against the Saudis, and has already stated plainly that Khashoggi's life—much less the 13 million people on the brink of famine in neighboring Yemen--are worth less than ongoing arms sales and the profits they provide to U.S. weapons manufacturers.  

As Juan Cole reported at Informed Comment, German politician Norbert Röttgen called on European leaders to pressure Trump into cutting off the Saudis from their weapons.

"The policy of President Trump in the Middle East, of relying entirely on Saudi Arabia to isolate Iran, may have encouraged the Saudi Crown Prince to believe that there are no limits at all for him," Röttgen said.


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