German arms exports to Riyadh have been halted since October 2018, after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The weapons freeze has been criticized by France and the UK.
Germany has extended its current ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for six more months, ending on September 30, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Thursday.
During that period, no new contracts will be approved, Seibert said. The decision came after Merkel met with members of her cabinet to review the policy.
The German government had placed a temporary ban on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in October 2018, following the controversial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
At the time, Merkel said that no new exports to the country would be allowed until the circumstances of Khashoggi's death had been established. But more recently, the chancellor indicated that Germany needed to be more flexible.
Criticism from the UK and France
The ban has divided Merkel's governing coalition, but it has also drawn criticism from France and Britain. Both countries have decried the fact that the Saudi weapons freeze also bars sales of arms manufactured in different countries that happen to have German components in them.
France's Ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descotes, said this week that Germany's arms export policy and cumbersome licensing rules threatened future bilateral defense projects.
Descotes warned that this debate would leave companies preferring "German-free arms products" — in other words, weapons systems that did not include German components.
She also admonished Germans for treating the debate as if weapons exports were a domestic policy matter, when in fact "it has serious consequences for our bilateral cooperation in the field of defense, and for the strengthening of European sovereignty."
In an attempt to quell these concerns, the German government agreed to extend export licenses that have already been granted for nine months, in an effort to spare these companies the costly and time-consuming process of applying for a new license.
Germany also called on France and Britain to ensure that its weapons systems deliveries to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates would not be used in the Yemen conflict.
There is also evidence that Germany's arms export controls are ineffectual, despite France's insistence: in February investigations by DW and others revealed that German weapons are being used in Yemen, despite Germany's export controls.
"The re-start of arms exports to Saudi Arabia would be a fatal foreign policy signal and would contribute to the continued destabilization of the Middle East," Green party spokesman Omid Nouripour told DW. "We need a common European arms export policy that excludes exports into war zones."
A German town pays the price for Saudi export ban
According to a report released this month by the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), arms sales to the Middle East almost doubled in the 2014-2018 period compared with 2009-2013.
Saudi Arabia received nearly 1 in 4 US weapons that were sold in the most recent period. It also imported more weapons than any other country, raking in 12 percent of global imports.
Germany increased its international arms sales by 13 percent, with German-built submarines enjoying particularly strong demand abroad.