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France's Macron evades questions on halting Saudi arms sales

Bertrand Guay, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on October 17, 2018.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday refused to take questions about halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite Germany's calls on its European partners to follow its example and stop arms exports to the kingdom.

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Journalists asked Macron during a visit to a naval defence show whether France would follow Germany in halting weapons sales to Riyadh after it admitted to the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate.

"This has nothing to do with what we're talking about. Nothing. So I won't answer that question. I'm sorry but as long as I'll be in office this is how it will be, whether people like it or not," he told reporters, visibly irritated.

'Massive impact on global perception of Saudi Arabia'

"It's not because one leader says something that I must react to it every time. So I won't answer that," he added, after a journalist asked a follow-up question.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called the killing of Khashoggi a "monstrosity" and vowed to halt all German arms exports to Riyadh until the case is cleared up.

Her economy minister, Peter Altmaier, called on other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia to increase pressure on Riyadh over the death of Khashoggi which has caused an international outcry.

Macron has sought to play down the importance of trade relations with Riyadh, saying that Saudi Arabia was not a major client of France.

However, from 2008-17 it was the second-biggest purchaser of French arms, with deals totalling more than 11 billion euros ($12.6 billion) for tanks, armoured vehicles, munitions, artillery.

Canada hedges, US and UK unlikely to end sales

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was similarly evasive when pressed on the issue, saying he is unlikely to cancel a substantial 2014 sale of armored personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia as pressure mounts to hold Riyadh accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"There was a contract signed by the previous (Tory) government that makes it extremely difficult for us to withdraw from that contract without Canadians paying exorbitant penalties," Trudeau said.

"We are looking at our options," he said.

The US and Britain – the biggest and second-biggest arms exporters to the Saudis respectively – have both sought to separate their highly lucrative military sales from the Khashoggi case.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that the killing of the journalist was “terrible” but that London would maintain its close relationship with Riyadh, which buys hundreds of millions of pounds in weapons from Britain each year.

Highlighting that a "huge number of British jobs" depend on London’s ties with Riyadh, he argued that British influence is best maintained by continuing to talk to the Saudis.

"We have got one of the most rigorous export regimes in the world which makes sure arms are very carefully monitored," Raab added.

This stance echoes that of American President Donald Trump, who has warned against scrapping a multibillion-dollar US-Saudi arms deal.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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