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German Politicians Angered Over Saudi Tank Sale
German Politicians Angered Over Saudi Tank Sale
Published: 5 Jul 2011 12:39

BERLIN - German opposition parties and even some ruling coalition members were up in arms July 5 over reports that the government wants to overturn its export rules and sell hundreds of tanks to Saudi Arabia.

This followed news reports that Saudi Arabia is about to buy 200 Leopard-2s, Germany's main battle tank, which is also produced under license in Spain.

Germany, which has declined for more than 20 years to sell such heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia because of concerns over human rights and fears for Israel's security, refused to confirm the report.

But the Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) paper reported the deal is already done and that both Israel and the U.S. signed off before the final decision was made June 27.

"Everyone will understand that the Israeli government is in agreement. Otherwise, there would have been an official protest," the paper quoted a government source as saying.

Germany has refused to comment on matters discussed confidentially within the federal security council, which determines export guidelines. The SZ report is the first indirect confirmation of such a deal.

Opposition leaders have demanded a parliamentary debate.

"The government must explain itself at some stage," Green parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin told ARD television.

"Such decisions cannot be taken at a time when people are fighting for democracy in the Arab world," he added. "And now one's trying to say such heavy weapons can simply be sold to dictators - and that is the case in Saudi Arabia."

"The government's readiness to sell 200 modern German tanks at a time of tension in the near East and the Arab peninsula denotes a frightening lack of judgment," the Social Democrat parliamentary deputy leader Gernot Erler told the Welt newspaper's online service.

Such a policy demonstrates that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westewelle "only pay lip service to supporting democratic movements in the Arab world," he added.

Selling tanks to Saudi Arabia at a time when that country has sent armored vehicles to help put down a peaceful protest movement in neighboring Bahrain is "a slap in the face for freedom movements in the whole region," Erler added.

The tiny but strategic Gulf archipelago, joined by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, has experienced repeated bouts of unrest between its Shiite majority population and its Saudi-backed Sunni ruling family.

Even in Merkel's government ranks, news of the possible deal has ruffled feathers.

Ruprecht Polenz, a Christian Democrat who heads parliament's foreign affairs commission, suggested such a sale would go against all previous rules about exporting weapons to countries in turmoil. Even the parliament's Christian Democrat president, Norbert Lammert, expressed concern about the timing of such a deal given the crackdown in Bahrain, newspapers reported.

The Saudi order for Leopard-2A7+ - a 55 to 62-ton tank equipped with a 120 mm gun - could be worth billions of euros to the companies Kraus-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, Der Spiegel magazine reported.

The Saudi kingdom has been in talks with the Spanish subsidiary of General Dynamics about buying their version of the Leopard tank, but the major portion of the order would land with the Germans, the magazine suggested.

The Saudis are also in talks with U.S. companies for $60 billion (41 billion euros) worth of defense equipment that would become the largest U.S. contract ever.

Die Welt newspaper, in an editorial, defended the government's bid to sell the tanks saying Saudi Arabia needed to be able to defend itself against Iran.
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