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PoliticsSaudi Arabia

Scholz in Gulf to boost energy security

September 24, 2022

The chancellor met the Saudi crown prince, and will also head to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Europe's largest economy needs to secure new oil and gas supplies, but doesn't want to be seen as soft on human rights.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gestures to Chancellor Olaf Scholz as they walk along a corridor in the Al-Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah, with several men walking behind them. September 24, 2022.
The chancellor is on his first visit to the Gulf regionImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday flew to Saudi Arabia as part of a two-day visit to the Gulf in the hope of securing new energy deals.

In Jeddah, Scholz held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, before heading to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, where the World Cup soccer tournament will be held later this year.

Will new energy deals be signed during the trip?

With the loss of Russian gas supplies as a result of the war in Ukraine, the chancellor is keen to shore up Germany's energy security. It is unclear, however, whether agreements on the import of gas or, in the longer term, green hydrogen would be reached during the visit.

Scholz faces a diplomatic balancing act because while human rights abuses are a major issue in the region, he will be keen not to offend potential Arab partners.

The German leader has been accompanied by a sizable business delegation on his first trip to the Gulf.

Germany's economy remains vulnerable while it weans itself off Russian oil and gas supplies, and the Gulf could provide a useful alternative energy source.

Berlin is keen to cooperate on new technologies such as green hydrogen produced using renewable energy, which Germany could import in vast quantities from the Gulf.

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, center, talks to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Sept 24, 2022.
Germany is hoping to ink new energy deals in the Gulf as it turns away from Russian oil and gasImage: Saudi Press Agency /AP/picture alliance

A 'solid working relationship' needed with Saudi Arabia's crown prince  

Ahead of the visit, a German government source told the dpa news agency that the chancellor would address the human rights situation but noted that a "solid working relationship" was needed with the crown prince.

The Saudi crown prince has been blamed by US intelligence for authorizing the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which he has denied. 

The murder, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, led to a diplomatic crisis between Riyadh and the West, and the crown prince was largely isolated on the international stage.

However, both US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have met with the crown prince this year  — a sign of normalized relations amid the West's vulnerability to high fossil fuel prices.

Biden ends trip to Middle East

Scholz pressured to take clear stance on human rights

Despite some reforms, the strictly conservative kingdom continues to face criticism over its human rights record, prompting Renata Alt, the chair of the German parliament's human rights committee, to demand that Scholz take a clear position.

"As important as it is to secure energy supplies to Germany, it is equally important to respect human rights worldwide," she told the AFP news agency. "You can't negotiate one without addressing the other."

Khalid Ibrahim, the director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, said the chancellor should call for the release of jailed political opponents in the three Gulf countries.

He spoke of "arbitrary arrests, torture, as well as arrests of human rights defenders after mock trials on false charges." 

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, said Scholz should make doing business in the region conditional on improvements in press freedom.

"[It is critical] that their rulers stop trampling on the media as a fundamental pillar of the rule of law," Christian Mihr, managing director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

mm/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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