German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will embark on a two-day tour of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, on Saturday in hopes of negotiating new energy deals with fossil fuel exporters.
Scholz, accompanied by a sizable industry delegation, will first go to Saudi Arabia before visiting the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on Sunday.
The chancellor hopes to forge new energy partnerships with the oil and gas-rich Gulf states, with the loss of Russian supplies in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
Scholz faces a diplomatic balancing act, however, as he will have to overcome significant differences with his hosts over human rights.
“We meet difficult partners there,” said a government source, but Germany “cannot rule out working with them”.
Scholz’s scheduled meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday is seen as particularly sensitive.
Bin Salman was until recently considered a pariah in the West for his suspected role in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The German government strongly condemned the journalist’s murder and would not “change its position,” government sources said.
– ‘Have to work with Saudis’ –
Saudi Arabia’s importance as a fossil fuel exporter and regional power meant a “solid working relationship” with the crown prince was needed, a government source said.
The 36-year-old would likely lead the country through “the next 10, 20 or 30 years,” he added.
Nor is the visit considered just an “energy shopping tour”.
Berlin also wants to expand cooperation on new technologies such as green hydrogen produced using renewable energy, which Germany could import in large quantities from the Gulf countries, government sources said.
The chancellor would also seek to strengthen political cooperation with the regional powers, which, on the other hand, are favored by Russia and China.
Scholz would try to “build the widest possible network in this world and advocate for his views,” the source said.
“We need to work with Saudi Arabia if we want, for example, to resolve the issue of the war in Yemen or tackle the Iranian issue,” the government source said.
On Saturday, Scholz will also meet with Saudi King Salman, although the aging monarch is said to play a diminishing role in government affairs.
On Sunday, Scholz will go to the UAE to meet President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
In the afternoon, the chancellor will hold talks with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.