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Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently

The decision to freeze arms sales permanently came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi's video appearance with Saudi prince.

Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: AFP

Italy on Friday revoked approval for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the conflict in Yemen, making permanent an 18-month temporary suspension.

“Today I am announcing that the government has revoked the authorisations underway for the export of missiles and aircraft bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

“(This is) an act that we considered due, a clear message of peace coming from our country. For us, respect for human rights is an unbreakable
commitment,” he said.

He did not mention Yemen but had referenced the conflict there when he ordered the initial suspension in July 2019.

According to Italy’s latest figures, dating to 2019, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ranked 10th and 11th in the list of the biggest markets for Italian arms exports.

Exports to Saudi Arabia were worth 105.4 million euros ($128 million), while those to the United Arab Emirates were worth 89.9 million euros.

Italy’s decision came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi’s guest appearance at a high-level event hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Renzi, a longstanding foe of Di Maio, is under the spotlight for pulling his party’s support for the ruling coalition earlier this month and forcing the
resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s prime minister resigned and what happens now?

In Riyadh, he spoke at the Future Investment Initiative – dubbed “Davos in the desert” – in an apparently pre-recorded video with the prince.

Despite longstanding concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Renzi described the prince as his “friend” and said the Gulf oil monarchy “could be the place of a new Renaissance for the future”.

Italian newspaper Domani, which broke the story of Renzi’s Saudi trip, said he receives $80,000 a year for being on the advisory board of the FII.

Renzi said on Friday that this is not the time to question him about his Saudi trip and that he will answer questions Italy’s political crisis is resolved.

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POLITICS

Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy, migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy, migration

Meloni’s trip — her second to a North African country this week — is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.

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