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Rising scruples in European countries over Saudi arms sales

Activists holding banners in the shape of missiles reading in Spanish "Decisions that kill" protest against the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia in front of the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Spain’s prime minister says his government will fulfill past arms sales contracts with Saudi Arabia despite his “dismay” over the “terrible murder” of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. . (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)

BERLIN (AP) — The killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi has prompted soul-searching in many European countries about their sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, long one of the biggest buyers of sophisticated Western weaponry.

While the United States ranks first among Saudi’s arms suppliers, Europe, too, has been selling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the kingdom for decades.

On Wednesday, Spain’s prime minister said his government would fulfill past arms sales contracts with Saudi Arabia despite his “dismay” over the “terrible murder” of Khashoggi earlier this month in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Pedro Sanchez told lawmakers that protecting jobs in southern Spain was central to his decision last month to go ahead with a controversial bomb shipment to Saudi Arabia.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that arms exports to Saudi Arabia “can’t take place in the situation we’re currently in,” citing Khashoggi’s death. Her economy minister, Peter Altmaier, called Monday for a common European Union position on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, telling a public broadcaster that “only if all European countries agree, this will make an impression on the government in Riyadh.”

“It will have no positive consequences if we, as we are doing, currently don’t pursue our arms exports if at the same time other countries fill this gap,” he said.

Spain has said that the $2.1 billion purchase by Saudi Arabia for five navy ships was put at risk when the government pondered canceling the shipment 400 precision bombs purchased by Riyadh in 2015.

Sanchez hasn’t clarified what his plans are regarding future purchases by the long-time commercial ally. But he said the government wants to make Spain a “pioneer” in verification and transparency on arms exports.

According to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, Spain accounted for about two percent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports between 2013 and 2017. That was on par with Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

France accounted for about 4 percent, while Britain took a 23 percent share of the business, behind the United States with 61 percent.

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