Saudi arms trade goes on de­spite Khashoggi mur­der

UK in fi­nal ne­go­ti­at­ing phase for sale of more Typhoon jets to Riyadh

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward

Bri­tain has pur­sued its as­sid­u­ous courtship of Saudi Ara­bia de­spite the mur­der of the jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, with diplo­mats and Min­istry of De­fence of­fi­cials meet­ing their counterparts in the king­dom to dis­cuss closer eco­nomic, mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal ties.

The dis­cus­sions have taken place as Bri­tain en­ters the fi­nal phase of ne­go­ti­a­tions to sell more Typhoon jets to Riyadh. They are sim­i­lar to those used in the Saudi-led bomb­ing of Ye­men in a war that has caused a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter.

Bri­tain sells bil­lions of pounds of weapons to the coun­tries bomb­ing Ye­men and is keen to strengthen its ties af­ter Brexit. In July last year, the govern­ment con­firmed it had cre­ated a ded­i­cated Gulf re­gion work­ing group to pro­mote “high-level di­a­logue with key trad­ing part­ners to progress our trade and in­vest­ment re­la­tion­ships”. Since then, civil ser­vants have reg­u­larly vis­ited the re­gion for con­fi­den­tial talks to pre­pare for fu­ture deals once Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union.

A del­e­ga­tion from the Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional Trade vis­ited the Eastern Province cham­ber of com­merce in Dam­mam in Saudi Ara­bia on 2 Oc­to­ber – the day Khashoggi was mur­dered. Alas­tair Long, the UK’s deputy trade com­mis­sioner for the Mid­dle East and di­rec­tor of trade for Saudi Ara­bia, stressed that Bri­tain was keen to cre­ate al­ter­na­tive mar­kets and that Saudi Ara­bia “is at the head of th­ese mar­kets”.

On 31 Oc­to­ber, an­other UK govern­ment del­e­ga­tion vis­ited Riyadh for a meet­ing with the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil sec­re­tariat. A press re­lease from the coun­cil said the meet­ing dis­cussed ex­pand­ing “the hori­zons of po­lit­i­cal, se­cu­rity, mil­i­tary and com­mer­cial co­op­er­a­tion”. Only 24 hours ear­lier, Alistair Burt, the For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter for the Mid­dle East, had sug­gested that the Khashoggi mur­der could af­fect Bri­tain’s mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship with the Saudis and sup­port for the war in Ye­men.

Andrew Smith, of Cam­paign Against Arms Trade, said: “As the cri­sis wors­ens, and even af­ter the killing of Ja­mal Khashoggi, it is clear that Down­ing Street is more con­cerned with se­cur­ing arms sales than pro­mot­ing hu­man rights.”

The pressure is likely to in­crease af­ter Turkey’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan, re­vealed yes­ter­day that he had given record­ings of Khashoggi be­ing mur­dered to Saudi Ara­bia, the US, Ger­many, France and Bri­tain.

This week Bri­tish and Saudi de­fence of­fi­cials and con­trac­tors are ex­pected to meet at the Bahrain In­ter­na­tional Air­show. The or­gan­is­ers say there will be a 40% in­crease in the num­ber of coun­try pavil­ions, with del­e­ga­tions from Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emirates, Bri­tain and Tai­wan. Bri­tish and Saudi of­fi­cials are ne­go­ti­at­ing the sale of 48 Typhoon air­craft, fol­low­ing the sign­ing of a me­moran­dum of in­tent in March. Pro­duc­tion could start as early as next year.

At least 57,538 civil­ians and com­bat­ants have been killed in Ye­men since the be­gin­ning of 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Armed Con­flict Lo­ca­tion & Event Data Project. “The Saudiled coali­tion is in­flict­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe on Ye­men,” Smith said. “And yet BAE Sys­tems and the UK govern­ment are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to sell even more fighter jets to the regime.”

A spokes­woman for the trade depart­ment said: “We will not pur­sue trade to the ex­clu­sion of hu­man rights – they can and should be com­ple­men­tary.”

Turkey has given record­ings of Ja­mal Khashoggi be­ing mur­dered to the Saudis, US, Ger­many, France and Bri­tain.

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