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UK urges Germany to reconsider ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia: Report

In letter to German counterpart, UK foreign minister expresses 'concern' over impact on UK weapons industry
The UK's Eurofighter Typhoon military has parts made in Germany (AFP/File photo)

The UK's foreign minister has urged Germany to reconsider its ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, according to a letter seen by German news outlet Der Spiegel, the latest example of an ongoing divide between European countries over weapons sales to the Gulf kingdom.

In a letter to his German counterpart, Jeremy Hunt said the UK is unable to fulfill several defence contracts with Saudi Arabia, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado military plane, because parts of those aircraft are built in Germany, Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

As a result, Hunt asked Heiko Maas to exempt big defence projects from the German government's moratorium on arms sales to the Saudis, which was put in place in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last fall.

"I am very concerned about the impact of the German government's decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe's ability to fulfil its NATO commitments," Hunt told Maas in the letter, as reported by Reuters, which cited the Der Spiegel article.

In his letter, Hunt also said the German government's decision to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia would cost German defence firms $2.6bn in revenues by 2026, Reuters said.

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Germany barred future arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia in November as details emerged about the brutal killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic, at the country's Istanbul consulate.

Saudi government agents killed the journalist on 2 October and dismembered his body, prompting global outrage and calls for Western countries to end weapon sales to the Saudis.

Germany, Norway and Denmark announced they would halt future arms deals with Riyadh, while other major European countries, despite pressure from their respective citizens to do the same, have maintained business as usual with the Saudi government.

Germany accounts for just under two percent of all Saudi arms imports, a small percentage compared to the United States and Britain.

But Berlin makes components for other countries' export contracts, including a proposed £10b deal for Riyadh to buy 48 new Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets from the UK.

Reuters said it had not seen Hunt's letter and a spokesman for the German foreign ministry declined to comment to the news agency.

Der Spiegel's report comes only days after the UK House of Lords said the British government should suspend some of its export licenses for weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia.

UK arms sales to the Gulf country since the start of the war in Yemen have "highly likely" left Britain "narrowly on the wrong side" of international law, the report stated.

More than 60,000 people - civilians and combatants - have been killed in Yemen during almost four years of the war, in which a Saudi-led coalition has sought to oust the country's Houthi rebels.

Yemen has been plunged into a dire humanitarian crisis as a result of the ongoing conflict and millions of Yemenis are on the brink of starvation.

"The [UK] government must address the root causes of the suffering - the conflict itself -and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to Saudi-Arabia and members of the coalition," said Lord Howell of Guildford, one of the committee members, in the report.