Macron, Merkel back Europe coordination on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (AFP pic)

ISTANBUL: France and Germany’s leaders said Saturday they want a “coordinated” European position for restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to the French presidency.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel moved to quash a rare dispute between the close European allies after Macron implied on Friday that Berlin was engaging in “pure demagoguery” by halting arms sales to Riyadh.

On the sidelines of a Syria summit in Istanbul, the two leaders had a “relaxed exchange”, the Elysee palace said, and agreed not to announce their next positions on the issue without first coordinating “at the European level”.

Macron had previously insisted there was no moral link to be made between Khashoggi’s death at the beginning of this month and Saudi Arabia’s purchase of French-made weapons.

“What is the link between arms sales and Mr. Khashoggi?” he said, calling it “pure demagoguery to call for a halt” to exports over the killing.

The remark was interpreted as a rare veiled criticism of Merkel after the chancellor announced a freeze on arms sales to Riyadh over the dissident’s murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Macron said that sales of weapons to Riyadh — France’s second biggest customer after India — have “nothing to do with Mr Khashoggi. One shouldn’t mix everything up”.

Macron also said that if Saudi Arabia is to be sanctioned, “we must do so across the board”.

“In that case, we should stop selling cars,” he told reporters — another possible dig at Germany, a massive auto exporter.

Last month Germany approved 416 million euros (US$470 million) worth of arms exports to Riyadh for 2018, however on Merkel said Friday that “we need to clarify the background of this horrible crime and until that, we will not supply weapons to Saudi Arabia”.

Khashoggi’s killing has tainted the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has positioned himself as a Saudi reformer, and tested ties between Washington and Riyadh as Western powers demand answers over his death.

Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has denounced the “repulsive” murder, denying any involvement.