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Iran Press TV

Spain king due in Riyadh with talks on lucrative warship deal on agenda

Iran Press TV

Fri Jan 13, 2017 10:14AM

Spain's monarch is due in Saudi Arabia to reportedly help secure a lucrative warship deal with Riyadh, which has been under fire by rights groups for its bloody war against neighboring Yemen.

King Felipe VI will start the three-day visit of the kingdom on Saturday at the invitation of Saudi King Salman.

The visit takes place in the light of a prospective contract to sell Avante 2200 corvettes, which can be equipped with missile systems and helicopter launch pads, for an estimated $2.1 billion, Spanish media say.

"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 said.

Spain is the fourth biggest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia and seventh largest arms exporter in the world. According to the Brussels-based Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security, Spain's arms exports to other countries rose by 55 percent in 2011-15.

The Spanish and Saudi royal families have maintained an exceptionally-close relationship for several years, which has led to closer economic ties between the two countries.

In 2011, Former king Juan Carlos, Felipe's father, reportedly played a crucial role in securing a $7-billion contract for a Spanish consortium to build a high-speed railway in the kingdom.

The new arms deal is not considered a done deal yet. On the one hand, Riyadh is currently slashing its expenditures and, on the other hand, Spain has to compete with France which seeks to sell another type of navy ship to the oil-rich kingdom.

Rights groups argue that Spain's prospective arms deal with Saudi Arabia would be illegal under the international law, as the Saudi kingdom is currently committing war crimes in its military campaign, which killed thousands of Yemenis.

"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.

Under a 2013 UN global arms trade treaty, he added, the sales of arms which could be used in attacks against civilians or other violations of humanitarian law is prohibited.

A coalition of rights groups in Spain, including Amnesty and Oxfam, has listed dozens of alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen, including the bombing of hospitals and schools.

The Saudi war on Yemen, which has reportedly killed at least 11,400 Yemenis, was launched in an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the former government.

The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the country's facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools and factories.

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