BERLIN – In a move that could put even more pressure on President Trump to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Sunday afternoon that her government would not approve new arms exports to the kingdom until further notice.
"There is an urgent need to clarify what happened, we are far from clarifying this and holding accountable those responsible," he said at a press conference. "I agree with everyone who says that arms exports, although limited, can not be done under the current circumstances," Merkel said.
Although the measure affects future agreements, exports that have already been approved for the second foreign market of German weapons equipment will be made for the time being, but could be suspended in the coming days.
Germany is the first major ally of the United States to cast doubt on the future sale of arms after the assassination of Washington Post contributor columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and it is likely that the measure will pressure the largest exporters to do the same. President Trump ruled out suspending arms exports, but he faces requests from both parties to hold the alleged perpetrators responsible for the murder of the writer responsible.
Since the disappearance of Khashoggi on October 2, companies and governments around the world have been pressured to abandon their ties with the leadership of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia first denied accusations that it was behind the disappearance of the columnist, but later claimed that Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul in a "fist fight" with more than a dozen Saudi officials. While Trump has sent contradictory messages, both considering that the Saudi investigation is "credible" and accusing the Saudis of "deception," the key US allies in Europe agree that the Riyadh explanation does not fits
On Monday, one of Merkel's closest allies, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, pressured other member states of the European Union to also stop arms sales until they "knew what happened." The German government said it was seeking to coordinate an international response to the Khashoggi case. But Merkel did not link her decision to temporarily halt sales to measures taken by other major exporters, including the United States or the more than a dozen of E.U. Member States that sell military equipment to the Saudis.
Within the European Union, Britain and France deliver the majority of the equipment to Riyadh, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Only Great Britain sold Saudi Arabian military equipment worth around $ 1.4 billion in the first six months of last year.
In London, to date, Theresa May's conservative government has been cautious about sanctions that could endanger thousands of British jobs in the midst of a tense pre-Brexit economy. Domestic pressure to prioritize human rights was already growing before Merkel's announcement on Sunday, and the opposition Labor Party called for a suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Today, Germany represents only a relatively small part of European sales to Saudi Arabia, after years of reducing exports to the kingdom amid human rights concerns. Since 2012, the country has substantially reduced exports and has hardened its rhetoric against the Saudi leadership, resulting in the withdrawal of the Saudi ambassador from Berlin and less foreign investment in the kingdom.
However, in the weeks leading up to Khashoggi's disappearance, the German government had rejected his earlier pledge not to sell more military equipment to the Saudis. In September, it confirmed the approval of the export of four artillery positioning systems to Riyadh. In general, Berlin agreed to export equipment worth more than $ 460 million to the Saudis this year.
Germany's announcement on arms exports to Riyadh is another policy change. Merkel's critics argue that her changing stance towards the Saudis does not leave her in a good position to give lectures to other Western leaders on human rights.
While Germany's complicated dealings with the Saudis raise questions about the long-term sustainability of Merkel's export ban, her decision still puts other leaders in an awkward position at a sensitive time.
In the United States, a bipartisan group of senators activated the global sanctions procedures of the Magnitsky Act two weeks ago, forcing Trump to determine possible punishments against Saudi Arabia or Saudi officials for Khashoggi's murder. If the United States imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia, other exporters of important arms such as Great Britain would probably also be forced to take similar measures. But in Berlin, senior officials expect their movement to suspend future sales to pressure other European allies to follow suit, even if the United States refrained from doing so.
The halting of Germany's exports will have little impact "if at the same time other countries fill this gap", Merkel's ally, Altmaier, acknowledged Monday.
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