Macron says arms sales have 'nothing to do with' Khashoggi

Macron's remark was a thinly veiled criticism of Germany after Berlin announced a freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

BRATISLAVA - French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed calls to halt lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying such a move would be "pure demagoguery".

Sale of weapons to Riyadh -- France's second biggest customer after India -- "has nothing to do with Mr Khashoggi. One shouldn't mix everything up," Macron told a press conference during a visit to Bratislava.

"I greatly admire those who, even before they know anything, say 'We won't sell any more weapons'!," the French leader said in an apparent reference to Germany.

"They sometimes sell more than France thanks to their joint ventures," he added.

The remark was interpreted as a veiled criticism of France's closest European ally after German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a freeze on arms sales to Riyadh over the dissident's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Merkel confirmed her position during a visit to Prague on Friday.

"We need to clarify the background of this horrible crime and until that, we will not supply weapons to Saudi Arabia," she said.

At a joint press conference with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, she also called on Saudi Arabia to help end the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which Riyadh has been pummelling with air strikes since 2015.

"There are currently millions of hungry people, we are witnesses of one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes," Merkel said.

"We shall of course confer within the EU to work out what future steps we shall take," she added.

Joint EU stance?

Macron meanwhile insisted there was no moral link to be made between the death of Khashoggi at the beginning of this month and Saudi Arabia's purchase of French-made weapons.

"What is the link between arms sales and Mr. Khashoggi?" he said.

"I can understand the link with Yemen, but there isn't any with Mr Khashoggi. If we want to take sanctions, we must do so across the board. In that case, we should stop selling cars," he told reporters.

Otherwise, he suggested, "we should take individual sanctions against those responsible".

Macron said he was "waiting for the facts to be clearly established and for those responsible to be known so as to draw lessons and sanctions".

Sanctions should come as "a European response" and be "clear and coherent... in all domains", the French leader said.

Riyadh was the second-biggest purchaser of French weapons between 2008 and 2017, after India, with deals amounting to some 12 billion euros ($13.8 billion).

Germany meanwhile last month approved 416 million euros worth of arms exports to Saudi Arabia for 2018. In the past, its military exports have mostly consisted of patrol boats.

Germany's Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a close Merkel ally, has called for European nations to take a joint stance on whether to halt arms exports.

"There won't be any positive effects if only we halt exports and then other countries fill the gap," he warned on television earlier this week.

"Only when all European nations are in agreement will this make an impression on Riyadh," he said.