The German government defended its controversial deal to sell 200 Leopard battle tanks to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, as opposition to the sale grew within the coalition parties.
Former Defense Minister Volker Rühe, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's own Christian Democrats, said the German government could not simultaneously hope for stability in Saudi Arabia while supporting the authoritarian regime with tanks. Rather than weapons, he said the country needs "far-reaching reforms."
"This weapons deal has to be stopped," Rühe told news magazine Der Spiegel. Germany should not "find itself on the wrong side of history again."
The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) have sharply criticized the tank sale from the beginning. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel told the daily Passauer Neue Presse that the deal was "political and morally indefensible," citing Saudi military involvement in the anti-democratic repression in Bahrain earlier this year. He added that the German government had "gambled away all its credit - at home and abroad."
Partner in fight against terrorism
While Merkel's government has refused to directly confirm the weapons deal, it has simultaneously defended it. Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told that Hamburger Abendblatt: "Human rights concerns must play a roll, but the international security interests take precedence."
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich likewise defended the government's decision to the weekly Bild am Sonntag tabloid, saying Saudi Arabia was an important partner in the fight against Islamist terror.
And President Christian Wulff indirectly spoke in defense of the secret deal against the criticism of many members of parliament, who have used their power to prod the government on the details of the sale.
"Parliament has the possibility to make changes here," he told public television channel ZDF. But he added that this had not taken place in decades.
"It was always the consensus that this belongs to the federal security council, because it can weigh all aspects, like the reaction of Israel."
Author: Andrew Bowen (Reuters, dapd)
Editor: Martin Kuebler