Merkel gov't under pressure over Saudi tank deal

Germany has rules barring arms exporters from selling weapons to countries in crisis areas and those with human rights problems.

German tanks being delivered 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
German tanks being delivered 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's government faces a grilling in parliament, it was reported on over a secret sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia that Germany's opposition argues reverses a post-war stance severely restricting arms sales abroad.
Reuters reported from Riyadh on Monday that Saudi security sources had confirmed a deal for 200 Leopard 2 tanks, fueling a growing political debate over the arms sale after Der Spiegel magazine leaked first details about it on Sunday.
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Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere called the issue a matter of national security, and declined comment. "Meetings of the national security council are classified and they're going to stay that way," de Maiziere told reporters on Tuesday.
Opposition lawmakers said they would demand answers in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday about the news reports. "At some point the government is going to have to give up its veil of secrecy and come clean," said Juergen Trittin, parliamentary floor leader for the opposition Greens party. "Just try to keep it secret when you start delivering multi-ton tanks to Saudi Arabia," Trittin added.
Germany has long imposed rules on its arms exporters barring them from selling weapons to countries in crisis areas as well as those with human rights problems and or engaged in armed conflicts. The Middle East, with the exception of Israel, was long considered such a taboo area of tension.
Selling armaments abroad is a sensitive issue in Germany due to its Nazi past, but also because of the notorious role arms makers such as Krupp played in feeding 19th and 20th century wars with exports of weapons to virtually all belligerents.
But despite its self-imposed restrictions, Germany's arms exports have doubled in the last decade and the country has moved ahead of Britain and France to become the world's third largest exporter of weapons behind the United States and Russia.
About 90,000 work in the fast-growing defense sector. The 2A7+ tanks, made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, are considered to be one of the best main battle tanks built anywhere in the world.