On October 21st, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia “for the time being.”
The reasons for the decision are the vague circumstances around the disappearance and killing for Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to Merkel, Riyadh had not put the full facts surrounding the death “on the table.”
“First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she told a press conference, after discussions with members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
“Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened — we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account. Thirdly, I agree with all those who say that the, albeit already limited, arms exports can’t take place in the current circumstances,” she said.
Even before the Saudi admission, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democrats, had already called for weapons exports to the kingdom to be halted.
The weapons exports are limited, because a clause already exists in the coalition agreement signed by Germany’s governing parties, saying that no weapons exports may be approved to any country “directly” involved in the war in Yemen, which clearly includes Saudi Arabia.
The agreement did not include honoring deals that were already concluded. This decision, however, does. Nonetheless, DW noted that the government had made an exception for a 2015 deal for 30 military patrol boats built for the Saudi Navy. Saudi Arabia employs these boats for a naval blockade of Yemen.
Opposition politicians have also called for the German government to stop giving contracts to consultancy firm McKinsey, following a New York Times report that the US company had gathered information for the Saudi government about its critics.
Merkel further said that Germany would consider further “reactions” to the case with its international partners. Saudi Arabia is Germany’s second biggest buyer of weapons. On the other hand, Germany is Saudi Arabia’s fourth largest supplier following the US, the UK and France.
On October 22nd, Germany called on its EU partners to also stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier spoke in an interview with ZDF television. He said that it is important for all EU members to be united on this issue. “I believe that it is important to adopt a common European stance, because only if all European states are united, it would make an influence on the government in Riyadh,” he stressed.
France is yet to announce any reactions to the killing, however French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for an “exhaustive and diligent investigation to establish exactly who was responsible” for Khashoggi’s death. Le Drian also said “those guilty of the murder” must be held accountable for their actions.
The UK has also not undertaken any actions as of October 22nd. The UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt released a joint statement from him and his counterparts in Berlin and Paris, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, condemned the alleged murder “in the strongest possible terms.” The UK foreign office also said that actions were under consideration by the government.
“We are considering the Saudi report and our next steps. As the foreign secretary has said, this was a terrible act and those responsible must be held to account,” the foreign office’s statement read.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has called for action to be taken against the kingdom.
“The Saudi lies and impunity must stop here,” she Tweeted on October 19th.
“We have heard the same excuses time and again from Saudi Arabia on Yemen, and now on Khashoggi: when disgraceful atrocities are committed, they call them unintended mistakes, and the world does nothing,” she said.
Shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said Labour would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the announcement.
It is interesting, that the people in the UK government without executive power are presenting the strong rhetoric, while the UK, in fact, is cautious of undertaking any action. He acknowledged that many jobs come out of the Saudi-UK trade, but “This is about who we are as a country.”
US President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s removal of two top officials and more than a dozen arrests a “good first step.”
“I think we’re getting close to solving a very big problem,” Trump said, adding that he finds the Saudi explanation credible. Trump also appeared to shift responsibility on Congress for the possible US response. However, he did add that there were “other things” the US could do that wouldn’t involve jeopardizing economic deals with Saudi Arabia. He said he hoped lawmakers would “see their way clear” to preserving the agreements.
Republican Senator Rand Paul said that the US should discontinue arms sales to Saudi Arabia. California Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee also said that the US should suspend arms sales to the Kingdom.
On October 21st, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has said on Sunday it was premature to comment on possible sanctions against Saudi Arabia.
Russia’s response was that the situation around Khashoggi’s murder does not affect the planning of contacts between Moscow and Riyadh. On October 22nd, Russian President’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Russia is awaiting the results of the investigation.
“Yes, we [had] visits, our interministerial top-level delegation went, there were meetings,” the diplomat said in response to the question about whether Russia still plans to attend the summit in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder. “As for this case, it is notorious, but we have to wait for the results of the investigation.”
However, Russia does not really have close relations with the Saudis, it is much more in the US and UK corner, so a strong reaction would have been unexpected.
Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia’s biggest weapons trading partners are hesitant in undertaking any reactions against the Kingdom.