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Saudi Arabia, Germany long-standing partners in changing times

King Salman, right, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the Kingdom earlier this year. (Reuters)
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. (SPA)
Relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia were formalized as early as 1929 by the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Germany and the Kingdom of the Hijaz and the Nejd. And Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with the Kingdom since 1954.
In an interview to Arab News, German Ambassador to the Kingdom Dieter W. Haller spoke at length about the growing-relations between the two countries, and how the two countries are working closely on a range of regional and international issues.
The German envoy said: “Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner of Germany, the most important one in the region. The ties between our two countries are very solid, vibrant and ever expanding. Without any doubt, Chancellor Merkel’s visit to the Kingdom shortly before Ramadan this year has paved the way for an enhanced cooperation in the fields of economy and security. And most importantly: We have added strategic content to our relations. Both our countries live up to their international responsibilities and share a common view on key strategic challenges of today’s world.”
Responding to a question about German position on key regional issues, he said the international community desperately needs to find a solution to all the regional conflicts, especially to the Arab-Israeli one, which is with us for far too much time.
“Germany supports the two-state solution and still supports the Arab Peace Initiative of late King Abdullah. Regarding Yemen we believe that there can only be a political solution. Such a solution will have to be achieved in the framework of UN and will need to be preceded by a lasting cease-fire and unlimited humanitarian access to all parts of Yemen. We fully support the respective efforts of the UN Special Envoy. Similarly, there can be no military solution in Syria. Key to a definite end of the humanitarian catastrophe in a country with such an impressive cultural heritage are the Geneva peace talks.”
On Iran’s nuclear issue, the German diplomat said: “We believe the nuclear deal is intact. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has so far fulfilled its obligations. Nevertheless, we expect from Iran — as other partners do — to join the fight against terrorism and extremism and not to feed them,” he added.
When asked about Germany’s growing ties with the Kingdom, he said: “During the last 12 months we have witnessed a substantial expansion of security cooperation. Global terrorism with its ugly inhumane face requires a coordinated response from the international community.” He added: “Our cooperation includes information and experience sharing in areas such as de-radicalization and foreign fighters.”
“We cooperate with the Islamic Counter-Terrorism Centre in Riyadh. We engage in extensive training of Saudi border police and have agreed to expand the training cooperation to other areas like metro police and air security. And we join hands, both bilaterally and multilaterally for instance in the G-20 format to dry out the financial networks that feed international terrorism and extremism,” Haller said.
Saudi Arabia is also working on an ambitious project that calls for localization of defense industry. When asked about Germany’s possible role in cooperating with the Kingdom in this regard, the German envoy said: “Due to our rather restrictive armament export policy and a restructuring of the German defense industry, our contribution to the establishment of a localized Saudi defense industry might be limited.”
“One of our key competencies still remains the maritime sector with products like the new frigate class 125 and high technology submarines,” he said.
The German envoy added: “We have learned that the modernization of the Saudi naval forces will focus in the near future on surface vessels. Perhaps in this field, cooperation opportunities might arise. We are on the other hand proud that the maritime borders of the Kingdom will in the future be even more secure with the use of German patrol vessels.”
Germany and its private sector, Haller said, are also cooperating with Saudi partners in the energy sector as well as in many other areas.
“Siemens works on a concept for the Kingdom’s energy transition, which encompasses elements such as energy efficiency and high-skill job creation. Linde is a reliable partner for downstream activities like new refinery and integrated petrochemical projects. Various German companies participate in the tendering process for the first 750 MW renewable energy package,” he said.
Germany is unique among European countries insofar as it has granted Muslims the status of a recognized religious community. Responding to a question about the condition of Muslims in Germany, the top diplomat said everybody in Germany, irrespective of his nationality can live his belief freely. “We have about 5 million Muslims living in Germany, about 1.2 million came in the last two years as migrants or refugees. Since a long time, Muslims in Germany participate actively in the political, economic and cultural life in Germany. Ten years ago, the German government established a Round Table where representatives of various Muslim organizations meet regularly with the interior minister and German authorities,” he said.
Commenting on the growing economic ties between the Kingdom and Germany, the envoy said Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 have opened up a lot of new opportunities. “We want to develop our economic partnership further. Our bilateral trade, which decreased a bit in 2016 is picking up once again in the first months of 2017,” he said.
“Trade will remain a strong pillar with hopefully more Saudi products making it to the German market but more important are the joint ventures like the one between Saudi Aramco and Lanxess by which in the global Lanxess production network synthetic rubber is produced,” he told Arab News.
“We need to push for more investments — naturally in both directions. That will be one of the key tasks in the years to come: We will have to develop the trade-focused partnership into a relationship based on investment with a focus on joint ventures,” Haller said.
Replying to a question regarding the recent German elections, he said: “Chancellor Merkel’s Conservative Party has gained 32.9 percent, which means that the CDU/CSU is by far the largest party in our country. I am sure that our Chancellor will be able to form a strong coalition government with the Liberal Party and the Green Party. One of the great assets of our foreign policy is consistency and continuity — even after a change in the government. There is a wide consensus in Berlin that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s importance both in regional and global policies will increase in the future. That is why, I believe in a very prosperous future of our relations.”

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