A multibillion-dollar deal to sell Spanish warships to Saudi Arabia is on the brink of being cancelled amid a row between the two countries over Madrid’s decision to block shipment of bombs to the kingdom.
The tiff started earlier this week after Spain’s Defense Ministry cancelled a 2015 agreement to sell 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, which is waging a deadly war on Yemen.
The decision enraged Saudi Arabia which is already under international pressure over rising civilian deaths in its brutal bombing campaign on Yemen.
Now, the Spanish daily El Independiente is reporting that Saudi Arabia plans to scrap a $2.2 billion contract to purchase five Corvette warships from state-owned military shipbuilder Navantia.
The report has raised serious concerns in Spain as the cancellation of the deal could endanger thousands of jobs.
Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa told reporters on Friday that Madrid was working to preserve the warship contract.
“The government is working to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia and to defend the contracts for the construction of five Corvettes in Navantia’s shipyards,” she said.
Celaa tried to play down “a diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia,” but acknowledged that “there may be an exchange of opinions and divergence which I think will be resolved.”
Asked whether the government was considering reversing its decision to block the sale of the bombs, the spokeswoman was unforthcoming, only saying that it was “maintaining the government’s international commitments.”
Spain’s Defense Ministry has said it would pay back the $10.6 million it had already received from Riyadh as part of the arms deal to sell 400 bombs to Riyadh.
Spain’s Deputy Trade Minister Xiana Mendez told the parliament’s defense commission that the government was “aware of the importance of this … splendid [warship] contract with close to 6,000 jobs” involved.
She further stressed that the accord “is still in force” and that “the government will not endanger” the sale of the warships.
The Madrid government has faced criticism for selling weapons to Riyadh. Campaign groups such as Amnesty International, Spain’s FundiPau, Greenpeace and Oxfam have called on Spain to stop supplying military equipment to the Saudis, accusing them of abusing human rights.
Alberto Estevez of Spain’s Arms Control Coalition welcomed the cancellation of bombs sale to Saudi Arabia.
“These kind of weapons have been used in alleged war crimes in, in attacks to markets, hospitals, schools and the likes, which are clear violations of international humanitarian laws and the laws of war.”
The Saudi aggression, which began in March 2015, initially consisted of a bombing campaign, but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces into Yemen.
Several Western countries have been supplying Saudi Arabia with advanced weapons and military equipment. Spain is said to be one of the biggest arms exporters to the Saudi kingdom.
Last week, UN human rights experts raised the alarm at the high rate of civilian casualties in Saudi Arabia strikes on Yemen, saying the air raids “may amount to war crimes.”