At the start of his two-day trip through the Gulf region, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) met the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the port city of Jeddah. The two greeted each other with a strong handshake in the royal Al-Salam Palace, the Palace of Peace.

During his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Chancellor Olaf Scholz also addressed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “We have discussed all issues that revolve around questions of civil and human rights,” he said on Saturday after the conversation in the port city of Jeddah in response to a journalist’s question. “That’s how it should be. And you can assume that that nothing is left unsaid that needs to be said.”

The crown prince is held responsible by the US secret service for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul four years ago. The crown prince denies being the mastermind.

The murder had led to the crown prince’s international isolation and plunged German-Saudi relations into a crisis that lasted for years. The chancellor’s visit is now seen as a sign of a certain normalization. Scholz wants to address the murder during his visit and also address the human rights situation in the kingdom, which is ruled with a heavy hand. But it will also be about the Yemen war, the situation in Syria and Iran, as well as trade relations and – last but not least – cooperation in the energy sector.

But there are big differences when it comes to human rights. The chancellor will meet “difficult partners” on the trip, according to those around him. According to US intelligence, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince personally approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul four years ago.

Scholz travels to the United Arab Emirates and then to Qatar on Saturday evening. Like Saudi Arabia, both countries are important energy exporters. Before the trip, it was still unclear which contracts would be concluded for the supply of gas or – in the medium and long term – hydrogen from the region to Germany. The Chancellor’s environment said: “We will bring ambitious proposals to a conclusion.” However, the trip should not become a pure “energy shopping tour”. Scholz is accompanied by eleven top managers. Among others, Airbus, Thyssenkrupp and Siemens Energy are represented in the business delegation.

Despite some reforms, the strictly conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been criticized for its human rights situation. The human rights organization Amnesty International demanded clear words from the Chancellor to the Crown Prince before the trip: “Even in view of all the geopolitical and energy policy constraints, the Chancellor should not remain silent about the human rights violations in the country during his trip to Saudi Arabia.”

Reporters Without Borders (ROG) asked Scholz to address press freedom in the three target countries. “But if he wants to do business with these governments, he should set one condition: that their rulers stop trampling on the media as a fundamental pillar of the rule of law,” ROG Germany CEO Christian Mihr told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. (NOZ).

Joint press conferences by the Chancellor and his interlocutors are not planned for the entire trip. Despite a great deal of effort, it was not possible to convince the interlocutors of this, according to the German side.

The energy industry is not only hoping for short-term gas exports from the Gulf region from the trip. “Germany and Europe will depend on importing hydrogen. It is all the more important to conclude international partnerships at an early stage,” said Kerstin Andreae, General Manager of the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries, of the “Rheinische Post” (Saturday).

But Saudi Arabia could also send requests to Germany. According to the peace research institute Sipri, the kingdom is one of the five largest arms importers in the world, and Germany is one of the five largest exporters. Under the traffic light government, however, not a single armament export to the kingdom was approved. This emerges from a response from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to a request from Left-wing MP Sevim Dagdelen, which is available to the German Press Agency.

The reason is an export ban that has been in effect since November 2018 due to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen war and the Khashoggi murder. Chancellor Scholz and his government have so far made no use of an exception rule for European joint projects.

However, it is not known whether there were any corresponding applications from the industry at all. The former federal government issued 81 export licenses worth 33.27 million euros in 2020 and 2021. The Saudi government has repeatedly criticized the export ban. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud described it as a “very wrong signal” in February.

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