Weapons seized by Saudi border guards sit on display near ad-Dayir, in Jazan province, Saudi Arabia. (Photographer: Glen Carey/Bloomberg)

Merkel's Government Extends Saudi Arms Ban Until September

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government extended a weapons embargo on Saudi Arabia for six months, resolving a dispute in the German coalition over European defense projects.

The halt to weapons deliveries will run until Sept. 30 and no new contracts would be permitted during that time frame, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in an emailed statement late Thursday. Exceptions would be made for joint export projects until the end of the year, pending talks with partner countries.

Germany will hold talks with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure that delivered weapons aren’t used in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, according to the statement.

Merkel's Government Extends Saudi Arms Ban Until September

The decision continues the squeeze on Saudi Arabia past the end of the month, when the original ban was set to expire. The move will allow Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc to ease the blow to European allies without being seen as supporting the kingdom’s leadership as the Saudi-led war in Yemen rages on and with the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi -- which triggered the ban -- still unresolved.

The Social Democrats, Merkel’s coalition partner, had pushed to maintain the embargo.

“We are not willing to export weapons into regions where there is war, because we don’t believe that is something that adds to the peace process,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley, a leading member of the SPD, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “There are not many supporters of this point internationally -- which I regret.”

Looser Ban

The ban on all weapons deliveries, including on projects already contracted involving companies like Airbus SE, has led to the disruption of defense exports across Europe, triggering complaints from the U.K. and France. Merkel addressed the issue in a speech to Bundestag lawmakers last week, asking whether Germany’s pressure on Saudi Arabia should be allowed to harm allies.

“I would wish for a more fundamental debate about this, otherwise we appear morally arrogant,” Merkel said. “We look too attached to principles, or too incapable of compromise.”

Merkel's Government Extends Saudi Arms Ban Until September

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s successor as Christian Democratic party leader, was more direct, attacking the SPD on Monday for its “very one-sided and premature determination” on the weapons ban, saying it was “fatal” for European cooperation.

“I fear that the U.K. and France would supply the region in future without German participation,” which could shut Germany out of joint defense projects, Roderich Kiesewetter, a CDU lawmaker who sits on the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “We need to more strongly balance morals, interests and values.”

Despite the differing views, the coalition parties -- beset by political turbulence since taking power a year ago -- have no appetite to turn the dispute into one that could endanger government, Nils Schmid, an SPD expert on the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview Thursday.

Negotiators discussed establishing criteria which would allow deliveries with limited German content to go ahead, but the legal complexity of such thresholds held up a quick agreement, he said.

“We have to keep up the pressure on Saudi Arabia,” especially with violence continuing in Yemen, Schmid said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.