Merkel grills Saudis on refugees, Yemen

Merkel grills Saudis on refugees, Yemen

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is in Saudi Arabia, where she is expected to challenge the government on its treatment of refugees, while signing non-military trade deals. 

Merkel met King Salman in the Red Sea commercial capital, Jeddah, and is due to visit the United Arab Emirates today (Monday). Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Germany’s largest West Asian trading partners.

Merkel is expected to press both states to do more to take in refugees and provide humanitarian relief for those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia intends to refrain in future from asking for more weapons from Germany, and to concentrate instead on economic cooperation in other sectors, Der Spiegel reported.

Last year Germany exported an estimated €500 million of arms to the Saudi authorities.

“We accept the German reticence with regard to exports to Saudi Arabia; we know the political background,” Saudi Deputy Economic Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri told the news magazine. “We will not cause any more problems for the German government with new requests for weapons.”

Al-Tuwaijri said he wanted closer cooperation with Berlin in areas other areas, making Germany one of its “very most important economic partners”.

“Relations with Germany are much more important to us than arguing about weapons deals,” he said.

Germany’s Saudi weapons deals have been criticised for many years and blamed for facilitating the kingdom’s repressive policies.

Merkel was due to raise the issue of Saudi funding for religious bodies blamed for spreading a fundamentalist version of Islam around the Muslim world, an unnamed German source told AP.

Saudi Arabia recently closed several organisations in Germany after receiving requests from Merkel’s federal government, including the private King Fahd Academy in the Cold-War capital Bonn. Berlin had previously expressed concern the school might be used to spread fundamentalist ideology.

Merkel did not cover her hair or wear a black robe when she arrival in the kingdom. She is expected to meet female Saudi business leaders in support of women’s rights.

Merkel also called for an end to the Saudi-led airstrikes on neighbouring Yemen.

“We believe in the UN-led process of diplomatic resolution,” Merkel said. “We do not think that there can be a military solution to this conflict.”

She said something had to be done to prevent even more civilians from being brought into an “extremely bad humanitarian situation”.

Saudi security forces on parade. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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