Germany snubs own intelligence agency for Saudi criticism

Berlin: The German government issued an unusual public rebuke to its own foreign intelligence service over a blunt memo saying that Saudi Arabia was playing an increasingly destabilising role in the Middle East.

The intelligence agency’s memo risked playing havoc with Berlin’s efforts to show solidarity with France in its military campaign against the Islamic State and to push forward the tentative talks on how to end the Syrian civil war. The Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, is due to vote Friday on whether to send reconnaissance planes, midair fuelling capacity and a frigate to the Middle East to support the French efforts.

The memo was distributed to selected German journalists on Wednesday. In it, the foreign intelligence agency, known as the BND, offered an unusually frank assessment of recent Saudi policy.

The memo said that King Salman and his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman were trying to build reputations as leaders of the Arab world.

Since taking the throne early this year, King Salman has invested great power in Prince Mohammed, making him defence minister and deputy crown prince and giving him oversight of oil and economic policy. The sudden prominence of such a young and untested prince – he is believed to be about 30, and had little public profile before his father became king – has worried some Saudis and foreign diplomats.

The intelligence agency’s memo was flatly repudiated by the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, which said the German Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had issued a statement making clear that “the BND statement reported by media is not the position of the federal government”.

A government official in Berlin, speaking on condition of anonymity, added crisply that it was the BND’s job “to supply the government with information, and to deliver hopefully clever analysis”.

“The BND certainly does not speak for German foreign policy, and definitely not through third parties” like the media, the government official said, adding that political advances in Syria and the Middle East in general could be achieved only with “constructive cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”

Full article: Germany snubs own intelligence agency for Saudi criticism (Sydney Morning Herald)

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