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Saudi, German leaders discuss regional and int’l developments

Several MoUs including security, industrial and energy signed

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left), is received by Saudi King Salman on her arrival to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on April 30. Merkel arrived Sunday for talks with the oil-rich kingdom’s monarch, beginning a two-nation trip to the Gulf. (AP)

RIYADH, April 30, (Agencies): Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Sunday the latest regional and international developments. Both leaders also addressed Saudi-German relations and horizons of bilateral cooperation in various fields, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. Several memos of understanding (MoUs) were signed by both sides in the fields of developing sustainable industries, security, energy, vocational training, military and high-tech, it added.

The German chancellor arrived in Riyadh earlier in the day on a several-day official visit to Saudi Arabia. Merkel is expected to press royals on a number of sensitive issues, including taking in refugees, while also boosting important business ties in her first visit to the country in seven years. Merkel met King Salman in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Germany’s largest trading partners in the Middle East. During her talks with Gulf leaders, Merkel is expected to press them to do more to take in refugees and provide humanitarian relief for those fleeing conflict in Muslim majority countries. Her country has provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

Merkel is also expected to raise the issue of Saudi Arabia’s funding for religious institutions that may be spreading a fundamentalist version of Islam around the world, including in countries such as Mali and Niger, said senior German officials who spoke on customary conditions of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia recently closed several institutional establishments in Germany following pressure from Berlin, including the private King Fahd Academy in the southern suburbs of Bonn. German authorities had previously expressed concern the school might be used to spread fundamentalist ideology. Like other high-profile female visitors, Merkel did not cover her hair or wear a traditional fl owing black robe upon arrival in the kingdom. She is expected to meet Saudi businesswomen during her two-day visit in a sign of support for women’s rights. Merkel herself backs a ban in Germany on civil servants wearing face veils and on the face cover being worn in public schools, courts and while driving. Most Saudi women wear the full face veil, known as the niqab, in line with the kingdom’s conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

Merkel is traveling with a business delegation that includes CEOs of major German companies. The kingdom is seeking to attract investment and diversify its economy away from oil, the backbone of its economy. The official Saudi Press Agency reported the two sides signed a number of memorandums to enhance cooperation in the fields of technology, energy, business and security. Despite a drop in oil prices that has forced the kingdom to curb spending, Saudi Arabia remains among the world’s top spenders on defense equipment.

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