Spain unblocks €40 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Decision, delayed over fears weapons would be used in Yemen, comes on eve of royal visit

Miguel González
King Felipe reviews retired soldiers.
King Felipe reviews retired soldiers.Lavandeira jr

The Spanish government has unblocked a €40 million arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The sale of 155mm artillery ammunition had been on hold for a year due to concerns the munitions might be diverted to the civil war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is one of the Spanish military industry’s top clients

The decision to approve the sale comes shortly before King Felipe VI of Spain is scheduled to go on his first official visit to Riyadh, between Saturday and Monday.

Felipe VI’s visit was originally scheduled for January, but was cancelled after the Saudi kingdom executed 47 people.

The trip is proving controversial in any case. Spanish parties like Podemos and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) oppose it, while Ciudadanos has asked the king to demand respect for human rights.

And Amnesty International has sent Felipe VI a letter asking him to use his influence to get Saudi Arabia to end the attacks on Yemen’s civilian population. Over 7,000 people are believed to have died in the civil war that erupted last year.

A stretch of the AVE line being built between Medina and Mecca.
A stretch of the AVE line being built between Medina and Mecca.

Five corvettes

Although there is no official confirmation yet, it is expected that during the visit Saudi officials will also sign on the purchase of five corvettes worth over €2 billion from Navantia, the Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company.

If the vessel deal goes through, it will be Navantia’s largest export ever, providing work for 2,000 employees over the next five years at the shipyards of San Fernando (Cádiz) and Ferrol, in Galicia.

The contract includes ship maintenance and a makeover of the King Abdulaziz naval base near Jubail, in the Persian Gulf.

Queen declines

Unlike his father Juan Carlos, Felipe VI will not be traveling with business leaders. His wife, Queen Letizia, will not be accompanying him on this trip because of the discrimination suffered by women in Saudi society.

Saudi Arabia is one of the Spanish military industry’s top clients. In 2015, it purchased equipment worth €546 million.

Felipe VI, who will be travelling with Spain's new Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, but without his wife, Queen Letizia, will also discuss progress on the ongoing project to build a high-speed AVE train to Mecca, awarded to a Spanish-Saudi group for €6.7 billion.

And Spain has other economic interests in Saudi Arabia as well, including the construction of a subway system in Riyahd by FCC and the upgrade of the country’s refineries by Técnicas Reunidas.

English version by Susana Urra.

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