Spain will sell 400 missiles to Saudi Arabia despite concerns over Yemen

Foreign Minister Josep Borrell says country must honor its 2015 contract, and that the high-tech bombs do not cause collateral damage

Lucía Abellán
Defense Minister Margarita Robles.
Defense Minister Margarita Robles.ULY MARTIN (EL PAÍS)

Spain will finally sell 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia despite a move by Defense Minister Margarita Robles to put the sale on hold due to concerns that the missiles might be used in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Just 48 hours after Robles of the Socialist Party (PSOE) said that the sale was “undergoing review,” the government decided to reactivate it.

Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said that his department had found “no irregularities to prevent” the sale

Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in a radio interview on Onda Cero that his department had found “no irregularities to prevent” the sale. The missiles will be delivered “to honor our commitments,” said Borrell about the 2015 contract.

The decision, which undermines the defense minister’s authority, is aimed at restoring good relations with Riyadh, where news of the potential cancellation did not go down well.

Saudi authorities had informed Madrid that if the sale was halted, other contracts would be at risk, including the purchase of five Spanish-made warships worth more than €1.8 billion. Workers at the Cádiz-based shipyard Navantia, where the contract represents jobs for 6,000 people, staged public protests in response.

Saudi officials also said that all other contracts with Spain could face termination, representing tens of millions of euros in projects ranging from the bullet train to Mecca to the Riyadh subway system.

On Wednesday, the daily El Periódico reported that diplomatic sources had confirmed the sale would proceed as originally planned.

Robles had estimated that the value of the transaction was low compared with the €270 million in arms exports to Saudi Arabia last year

The contract was signed in 2015, under the previous administration of Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP). Under the terms of the contract, the Spanish army would sell 400 US-made laser-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has already paid the sale price of €9.2 million.

When she took office in early June, Robles reviewed all the projects left behind by her predecessor, and raised concerns that the bombs might be used in the Yemen war, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition to restore the deposed government. On August 9, a Saudi-led air raid in Yemen killed dozens of civilians, including at least 22 children, AFP reported.

Asked about the possibility that the Spanish missiles might be used in Yemen, Foreign Minister Borrell said that these are high-precision weapons that can zero in on their target without causing collateral damage.

Robles had estimated that the value of the transaction was low compared with the €270 million in arms exports to Saudi Arabia last year, and that it would be possible to cancel the sale without much repercussion. She was also surprised by the fact that the seller was the Spanish army rather than an arms manufacturer.

News of her decision, aired by the Cadena SER radio network last week and confirmed hours later by the government, led to a flurry of diplomatic exchanges with Riyadh.

English version by Susana Urra.

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