British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

The first Austrian military jet fighter "Eurofighter Typhoon" lands on the military airport in the small Styrian village of Zeltweg July 12, 2007. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2019
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British minister demands Germany lifts block on Saudi arms sales

  • Jeremy Hunt says Berlin’s halt in arms sales to KSA will hit UK defense industry
  • Requests major European defense projects like the Eurofighter be removed from embargo

LONDON: Britain’s top diplomat has demanded that Germany lifts its effective block on major European arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying the move stands to hurt the UK’s defense industry.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to Heiko Maas, his German counterpart, requesting that Berlin exclude the likes of the Euroflighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet from its embargo.

Parts of those jets are made in Germany, meaning that their sale to Saudi Arabia is essentially blocked even though the deals might be struck by defense companies headquartered elsewhere.

Hunt expressed concern about the effect of Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia on both the British and wider European defense industry, Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

“I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defense industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments,” Hunt wrote in the letter to Maas, according to Der Spiegel.

“It is imperative that you immediately remove major European defense projects such as the Eurofighter and the Tornado from the arms embargo,” he wrote in the letter dated Feb. 7. Otherwise, Berlin risks “a loss of confidence in the credibility of Germany as a partner.”

Hunt said British defense firms would not be able to fulfil several contracts with Saudi Arabia such as the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four founding countries — Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain — and is represented by France’s Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which Hunt heads, declined to comment on the letter, although said the UK takes criteria for arms exports seriously.

“We will not comment on the contents of a private letter. The UK’s priority is to find a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict, which is at a critical juncture. We continue to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN to bring together key Yemeni and international actors to deliver a peaceful solution,” the spokesperson told Arab News.

“The UK is committed to a strong and collaborative European defence industry. We take our arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and all export licence applications for Saudi Arabia are assessed rigorously against UK and EU Arms Export Licencing Criteria.”

An official from Airbus last week said Germany’s halt in exports to Saudi Arabia is preventing Britain from completing the sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoons to Riyadh, and has delayed potential sales of other weapons.

Airbus Defense and Space chief Dirk Hoke told Reuters that uncertainty about the issue had undermined Germany’s credibility, and could threaten future Franco-German defense projects.

“This is a serious problem,” Hoke was reported as saying. “We’re facing constraints in many projects, and many problems have been put on ice.”

Germany imposed the embargo in November, saying it would reject future export licenses to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals, which would entitle companies to compensation, but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now, Reuters reported.


Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

Updated 28 min 30 sec ago
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Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

  • General elections in India take on something of a festival feel
  • More than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade

NEW DELHI: Tourists to India are being given the chance to elect for a package holiday with a difference when the country goes to the polls next month.

Travel operators are offering all-in breaks which include taking part in election rallies, attending polls and joining key political figures on campaign trails.

More than 1,600 holidaymakers from around the world have already booked six-day and two-week package deals costing between $600 and $2,000.

Minal Jain, from Indian agency Akshar Travels, said: “We want to showcase Indian democracy to the world. But not just in one state. We want to take people to different parts of India and expose them to different cultures and show how this diverse country comes together to operate democracy.”

General elections in India take on something of a festival feel, and more than 900 million people are expected to head to the polls when voting gets underway on April 11. The result of what is expected to be a tightly fought contest will be announced on May 23.

And more than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade.

Akshar Travels, based in the Gujarat state capital of Ahmedabad, has several packages available on its website www.electiontourismindia.com.

Jain said that most of their customers were students, researchers and elderly people interested in Indian culture, history and politics.

As well as hundreds of confirmed bookings, agents had received more than 3,500 other enquiries from around the world about election breaks, Jain added.

The concept of election tourism began in Mexico in 2005 and gained traction a year later at a major international tourism conference in London attended by more than 100 travel operators.

It was first trialed in India during the 2012 Gujarat elections, and gained momentum in the general elections of 2014 when more than 5,200 tourists from countries including China, Nepal, the US, the UAE, Australia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany and France signed up for package deals.

Nimisha Limbachia, a non-resident Indian (NRI) based in Britain, took an Indian election holiday in 2014. “I was really curious to witness the elections after the anti-corruption movement in 2014 that galvanized the whole nation,” she said.

“It was a wonderful experience to see the huge rallies and electrifying crowds that gathered to hear Narendra Modi (current Indian Prime Minister),” the marketing professional told Arab News.

Limbachia intends to return this year too, along with hundreds of other trippers from Britain and throughout Europe.

“People in Britain and Europe are not exposed to big open rallies,” she added. “Thousands of people jostling with each other in the harsh sun to listen to speeches is something unheard of in Britain but there are many who want to experience that.”