Heiko Maas. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN
Heiko Maas. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN

Berlin — Germany is sticking to its weapons exports freeze to Saudi Arabia, the German government says, resisting pressure to soften its stance after criticism from Britain and defence firms, including Airbus, who argue it is hurting commerce.

Germany said in November it would reject future arms export licences to Riyadh over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has urged Germany to soften its line, saying it is “imperative” that it exempt big defence projects from its arms sales halt to Saudi Arabia or face damage to its commercial credibility.

A German economy ministry spokesperson said no change is imminent. “The view of the government is clear and there is no new situation. There is at the moment no basis for further approvals,” she said.

Hunt wrote to his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, earlier this month, and reiterated his concerns during a visit to Berlin on Wednesday.

In the letter, first reported by Der Spiegel magazine and seen by Reuters, Hunt said he was “deeply concerned” about the effect the decision was “having on the supply chains of UK and European defence industry and may ultimately have on Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments”.

He cited the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter jet as being affected and added that he saw a risk that Saudi Arabia would turn to Russian or Chinese supplies in future.

Referring to the conflict in Yemen, where the Saudi-backed government is fighting the Iran-backed Houthi movement, Hunt also said he was deeply concerned the freeze would dent the ability to influence key figures during the next few months in the cause of peace.

His strongly worded letter followed complaints last week from a top Airbus official who told Reuters that the halt was preventing Britain from completing the sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes to Riyadh and had delayed potential sales of other weapons such as the A400M military transporter.

Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four founding countries — Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain — represented by Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of Saudi operatives on October  2, provoking an international backlash. Riyadh has denied the crown prince had any involvement.