Spain’s king Felipe VI met today with Saudi King Salman, to talk about a Spanish warships deal, a deal which may award Spain some billion euros.
Felipe arrived in Riyadh late Saturday for a three-day stay; his visit was delayed earlier after the death of Salman’s brother and got decorated with the cordon of King Abdul Aziz, the highest Saudi honor for a foreigner.
Spain needs this deal
The Spanish foreign ministry said its minister Alfonso Dastis and Public Works minister Inigo de la Serna, accompanied Felipe during the visit to negotiate a deal to sell Avante 2200 corvettes for an estimated 2 billion euros.
“We can only confirm that negotiations are very advanced to build five warships which would be sold to the Saudi navy,” a spokesman for state-owned Spanish ship builder Navantia told AFP.
If the deal for the five corvettes is agreed upon, it would provide jobs for over 2,000 people for several years, said Jose Antonio Fernandez Vidal, a representative of Spain’s biggest union, Comisiones Obreras, in the northwestern region of Galicia, which is home to a major shipyard.
“We are awaiting this like rain in summer to create jobs in shipyards,” he said.
Spain faces a jobless rate of 18.9 percent, the second highest in the European Union after Greece.
The kingdom is currently the seventh largest arms exporter in the world, its arms exports climbed 55 percent in the past 5 years and its sales to Saudi Arabia which has the highest military expenditure per capita, are increasing.
Spain was the fourth biggest exported of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2014-2015 after the United States, Britain and France.
This year’s Saudi budget assigns 191 billion riyals ($51 billion) for military spending including equipment and weaponry, down from 205 billion riyals spent in 2016.
A separate budget allocation of 97 billion riyals designated for payment of new naval bases foe the Border Guards and other security project.
Also to be discussed during the visit, are the issues related to the delayed and way over budget rail link from Mecca to Medina constructed by the Spanish consortium.
Not a done deal yet
Saudi Arabia is trying to cut back some spending with the drop in oil revenues as prices are slumping.
Spain is facing strong competition as France hopes to sell another type of navy ship to the kingdom, said a source at French defense contractor.
Criticism from right groups
An alliance led by Saudi Arabia began air strikes over Yemen almost 2 years ago after Huthi rebels and other allies took over most of Yemen and the Saudis feared that Huthis would take over all of Yemen and be joined into a coalition with Shiite Iran which is Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
The Saudi led air campaign was accused and criticized from rights groups over civilian casualties.
They also said any Spanish sale of warships to Saudi Arabia would be illegal under international law.
Legal or not
“The question is: is the contract legal or illegal. And it is clearly illegal,” said Alberto Estevez, an expert on arms sales at the Spanish branch of Amnesty International.
He added that a 2013 United Nations global arms trade treaty bans the sales of arms which could be used in attacks against civilians or other violations of humanitarian law.
A coalition of rights groups in Spain, including Amnesty and Oxfam has outlined dozens if alleged war crimes such as the bombing of hospitals and schools.
The Spanish corvettes could be used in ways more than patrolling, emphasized Jordi Calvo, a research at Barcelona’s Study Centre for Peace J.M deals.
They can be equipped with missile systems or cannons and helicopter launch pads, he added.