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Germany signals it may lift veto on Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government signaled it’s prepared to reverse course and back the sale of additional Eurofighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia, though it said it might take several years for them to be delivered, according to Bloomberg. 

Scholz said as recently as July that his ruling coalition wouldn’t support exports of the aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the near future. The policy pushed by the Greens was part of an agreement between the three parties in the alliance in Berlin not to supply weapons to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced the policy reversal Sunday during a visit to Jerusalem, potentially paving the way for a contract worth billions of euros. She said that the Saudi role in thwarting attacks on Israel by Yemen-based Houthi rebels means that Germany can no longer justify blocking Britain’s wish to supply the fighters — a joint project between the UK’s BAE Systems Plc, Airbus SE and Italy’s Leonardo SpA.

Her argument was echoed Monday by Economy Minister Robert Habeck, a member of Baerbock’s Greens party who is also the vice chancellor, who said that the Hamas attack in October had “changed the security policy situation” in the Middle East.

“The Houthis are attacking Israel and Saudi Arabian missile defenses are protecting Israel,” Habeck said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD.

“At the same time, it’s also right that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia still doesn’t in any way meet our standards,” he added. “In that sense, it’s an ambivalent situation and that can’t be ignored.”

Baerbock’s comments had earlier prompted immediate pushback from Greens Co-leader Ricarda Lang.

While she acknowledged that the government in Riyadh has provided important support for Israel in recent weeks, she said the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia means she continues to oppose selling Eurofighters to the Gulf power.

“I think it would be right for us to stick to the position that no Eurofighters will be delivered to Saudi Arabia,” Lang told German public broadcaster RBB on Monday. The Saudi government wants to buy an additional 48 aircrafts, DPA reported.

Any eventual sale would require approval from Germany’s security cabinet and it could then take several years for the aircraft to be built and delivered, Steffen Hebestreit, Scholz’s chief spokesman, said at Monday’s regular government news conference.