Germany has said it is stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and urged other EU member states to do the same in a sign of the growing diplomatic firestorm over the journalist’s death.
Peter Altmaier, German economics minister, said on Monday that Riyadh’s explanation of the killing had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” he told the broadcaster ZDF.
He also called for a united European stance on the issue. “Only when all European countries agree does that make an impression on the government in Riyadh,” he said.
The furore over Khashoggi’s death grew after Saudi Arabia said late on Friday that he had died in a fist-fight, a claim greeted with near-universal scepticism.
The Turkish government accused Riyadh of murder for the first time publicly on Monday following days of leaks from Ankara about Khashoggi’s fate. “This is a case of abominable murder,” said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Shining a light on all aspects of this incident is our goal and our duty. Nothing about this incident will stay secret.”
Mr Erdogan has said he will give “full details” of the incident at a meeting of Turkey’s ruling party on Tuesday — which is also the opening day of a flagship investment conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Following his promise to lift the lid on what happened, Mr Erdogan spoke by phone with US president Donald Trump, the two governments said. A statement by the Turkish presidency said the two leaders agreed on the importance of “shedding light on all aspects” of what happened to Khashoggi.
In New York, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made his first public comments about the case. Mr Kushner, who has forged close links with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, said he had counselled Mohammed bin Salman to be “fully transparent” about what led to Khashoggi’s death.
Mr Trump said on Sunday he was “not satisfied” with Saudi Arabia’s latest explanation. He also said he was considering imposing sanctions on Riyadh, a key foreign policy ally of his administration and a major buyer of US arms.
In Berlin, Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “The Saudi explanation from before the weekend didn’t really help . . . We need to find out where Mr Khashoggi’s remains are . . . and while that is going on, there is no basis for positive decisions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”
So far this year, Berlin has approved weapons exports worth more than €400m to Saudi Arabia, making it Germany’s second-biggest arms customer after Algeria.
Under an agreement reached between the parties in Germany’s “grand coalition” government this year, Berlin restricts arms exports to all countries directly involved in the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition there fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. But the curbs set out in the coalition treaty do not affect pre-approved deals.
This might now change. Mr Seibert said on Monday the government was checking whether it could stop arms exports that have already been granted permits. A spokeswoman for the economics ministry confirmed existing permits could be revoked.
The opposition Green party has demanded an immediate ban on all exports, including pre-approved ones.
Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the war in Yemen is one of Prince Mohammed’s most contentious foreign policy initiatives.
The Saudi-led coalition, which backs Yemen’s exiled government in its battle with Houthi rebels, has been widely criticised over the high number of civilians killed in its air strikes, which have struck markets, weddings, hospitals and schools.
Joe Kaeser, chief executive of German conglomerate Siemens, said in a detailed LinkedIn post on Monday that after much consideration he would not attend the Saudi investment conference.
Calling the murder “barbaric”, Mr Kaeser said the “most courageous” choice would have been to attend the conference and “speak up on the issue” on behalf of Siemens’ 2,000 employees in the kingdom. Instead, he took the “cleanest decision but not the most courageous one”.
The Khashoggi affair comes with diplomatic relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia already at a low ebb. Sigmar Gabriel, the former foreign minister, caused consternation in Riyadh last year when he criticised Saudi Arabia’s role in the shock resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister while he was apparently detained in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Germany in November and described Mr Gabriel’s comment’s as “shameful”. The diplomatic tensions have created difficulties for German companies trying to secure contracts in the kingdom.
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington, Andrew England in London and Patrick McGee in Frankfurt
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