Scholz travels to Saudi Arabia – meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed

Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is traveling to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates next weekend.

(Photo: IMAGO/Emmanuele Contini)

Berlin Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is traveling to Germany next weekend Saudi Arabia, Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates. In Saudi Arabia he will also meet the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit announced in Berlin on Monday.

The de facto ruler of the kingdom 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 having approved the act.

The murder had led to a deep diplomatic crisis between Germany and Saudi Arabia. Hebestreit said the crime will "certainly also play a role" in the Chancellor's talks in Saudi Arabia. "Which ones, I dare not guess at this point in time."

After the murder, the crown prince was initially largely isolated internationally. A meeting with US President Joe Biden in Jeddah and a trip to the European Union in July, during which he met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, among others, have initiated a normalization of his relations with Western heads of state and government. Hebestreit said they are following the previous visits and meetings.

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Despite some reforms, the strictly conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to be criticized for its human rights situation. Just a few weeks ago, two women were sentenced to 34 and 45 years in prison, apparently because of their activities on Twitter. The US organization Dawn, the foundation of which Khashoggi initiated, spoke of "vengeful and excessive penalties" even for the "mildest criticism" of citizens.

Gas supply issue during Qatar visit

Saudi Arabia has also been criticized for its involvement in the Yemen war, for which the federal government has imposed an extensive arms export ban on the country. The Saudi air force is bombing Houthi rebel positions, which it sees as an extension of its nemesis Iran.

Seven years of war left 150,000 dead, including more than 14,000 civilians, and a humanitarian catastrophe. Saudi Arabia defends its intervention in the war by saying it was called to help by the legitimate Yemeni government.

In Qatar, the gas supply is likely to be the focus of the Chancellor's visit. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) agreed on an energy partnership during a visit to the small but very rich Gulf Emirate in March. Concrete agreements between Qatar and German companies are not yet known.

Qatar had invested in gas since the 1980s and 1990s and is now one of the world's largest LNG exporters. The vast majority goes to Asia, especially to Japan, South Korea and India. Since the start of the Ukraine war at the end of February, Germany and many other countries have been desperately looking for alternatives to Russian gas and oil and are also looking to Qatar.

"We want to help Europe and we will supply Europe with gas in the coming years," Qatar's Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani recently told the French weekly Le Point. “But we cannot replace Russian gas. Russian gas is essential for the world market.” From November 20, Qatar will also be hosting the soccer World Cup, which is taking place in a country in the Arab world for the first time.

For Scholz, it is the first trip to the Arabian Peninsula as chancellor. He is accompanied by a business delegation, but the members were not named on Monday.

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