Will Saudi Arabia′s diplomatic thaw with Germany last? | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 26.09.2018
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Will Saudi Arabia's diplomatic thaw with Germany last?

After 10 months, Saudi Arabia and Germany have decided to end their diplomatic dispute. Analysts say that the two nations enjoy a beneficial relationship, despite disagreements on Iran and human rights abuses in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and Germany rejuvenated their diplomatic relations this week after a meeting between German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. "In recent months, our relations have witnessed a misunderstanding which stands in sharp contrast to our otherwise strong and strategic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we sincerely regret this," Maas told al-Jubeir on Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador in Berlin last November after then-German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticized Riyadh's foreign policy in Lebanon while visiting Beirut. Reuters reported that Saudi restrictions on trade with Germany due to the dispute caused German exports to the country to fall 5 percent in the first half of 2018.  

Read more: Germany, Saudi Arabia end diplomatic row

"The meeting was the successful outcome of a series of talks between both foreign ministers and has thus been the result of an ongoing process to solve the crisis," Sebastian Sons, a Middle East researcher and associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told DW.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has over the past few months also made several calls to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to ease relations between Berlin and Riyadh. 

Germany 'needs' Saudi cooperation

"Germany needs closer cooperation with the Kingdom in order to work on regional conflicts such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but also on counterterrorism measures and reconstruction," Sons said.

The two countries enjoy a dynamic economic relationship. The country is viewed as an "attractive" destination for German companies, Sons noted, and some 800 of them currently operate there. Saudi Arabia is also seeking to diversify its economy and shift away from oil under Crown Prince bin Salman, making German investment into its economy an enticing prospect. 

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Modernization, without criticism

There remain bumps in the relationship, however. Dr. Hamdan al-Shehri, a Saudi international relations scholar and political analyst, told DW he was concerned about the continued trade between Germany and Iran, Ryiadh's regional rival. Countries improving ties with Iran could in turn "lose their stake in strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia," he said.

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia a 'heinous act'

Last week, Germany sold four artillery position systems for armored vehicles to the Saudis. The deal came in spite of a German ban on selling weapons to Gulf countries involved in the war in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. "Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is not serving German political interests," Sons said. He suggested that Germany and Saudi Arabia should instead pursue other avenues of cooperation, such as Germany making more investments in Saudi renewable energy or startup companies.

Read more: Germany halts weapons exports to parties in Yemen conflict

Ali al-Dubisi, the director of the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights, was much harsher in his criticism. "Satisfying the Saudi government by selling them weapons which commit crimes against the people in neighboring countries is a heinous act," he told DW.     

Sons believes that German officials should try to confront Saudi Arabia on its human rights record, but only through careful diplomacy. "Germany needs to tackle sensitive issues if it is willing to follow the path of a value-oriented foreign policy," he said. "However this critical discussion should take place behind closed doors instead of instrumentalizing Saudi-critical positions in the German public aiming to win domestic support."

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