Saudi Arabia and Germany Working to Resolve Rift, Sources Say

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia and Germany have agreed to end a diplomatic rift that lasted almost a year and threatened trade.

The spat, triggered by German accusations of undue Saudi influence over Lebanon, damaged business ties between Saudi Arabia and its largest European trading partner and focused attention on the kingdom’s newly aggressive foreign policy under 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Canada recently extended an olive branch in a separate tussle sparked by criticism of a Saudi human-rights case.

The German foreign ministry said in a statement carried on Saudi state news agency SPA that it sincerely regretted the misunderstanding and would work to improve ties.

In a joint press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir invited German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas to visit Riyadh, signaling an end to the row.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Germany are aiming to intensify their dialogue,” Maas said, standing next to Jubeir. “We will do our best to make the partnership with the Kingdom stronger.”

Relations deteriorated in November after remarks by Germany’s then-Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. He suggested that the surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while on a trip to Riyadh showed that Lebanon was a “pawn” of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government condemned his comments, and shortly afterward, summoned its ambassador to Germany for consultation; he’s yet to return. Saudi government agencies were also told not to renew some non-essential contracts with German firms, Bloomberg reported in March.

A person with knowledge of the matter had earlier said the German and Saudi governments were negotiating the wording of a joint statement that would allow a Saudi ambassador to return to Berlin. It was not immediately clear if and when an envoy would return.

Last week, Germany approved the delivery of four artillery positioning systems to Saudi Arabia, though Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition had agreed earlier this year to halt arms sales to countries involved in the war in Yemen. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels for more than three years, contributing to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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