BERLIN: Germany denied reports on Wednesday that it had agreed to export 270 Leopard battle tanks to Saudi Arabia, a deal that would draw stinging criticism from many Germans and opposition lawmakers.
Echoing reports of a secret tank deal between the two sides in July, the weekly newspaper Die Zeit cited an official at the Saudi Defence Ministry and a German embassy employee in Riyadh as saying the kingdom wanted to buy the Leopard 2A7+ tank.
Die Zeit, and a specialist publication which ran a similar report, did not say whether this was the same multi-billion dollar deal that Saudi security sources told Reuters was signed in the summer for 200 of the 70-tonne vehicles.
“I can deny the assertion made in a weekly newspaper that there is a tank deal between Germany and Saudi Arabia,” a spokesman for Germany’s foreign ministry told a regular government news conference.
The spokesman later said the military attache in Riyadh had not confirmed the deal and did not say whether Saudi Arabia had sought to place an order for the Leopard, seen as one of the most effective battle tanks in the world.
Opposition lawmakers heaped criticism on Angela Merkel’s government in the summer after reports it had cut a secret deal to sell the tanks, saying it contravened the country’s export guidelines for military hardware.
Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany given its Nazi past. Germany has refrained from exporting heavy weapons to Gulf states in the past, given its close relationship with Israel and more recently because of the Arab Spring.
Die Zeit quoted the Saudi official as saying his country needed the Leopard, made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, to defend itself against “dangerous neighbours”. That phrase is usually taken to refer to Iran.
Krauss-Maffei Wegmann said interest from Saudi Arabia in the
tank had been known for a long time but that no new order had been placed with the Munich-based company.
“We have never manufactured without an order,” said a spokesman.
German weapons exports rose about 60 percent to 2.1 billion euros last year from 2009, according to an annual armaments report approved by the cabinet on Wednesday.