March 6, 2018 / 8:17 PM / in 8 months

Skirting Saudi arms sales, France says Iran has "lots" of weapons in Yemen

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister on Tuesday sidestepped questions on whether his country should end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because they were being used in Yemen, saying that Iran also had “lots” of weapons there.

FILE PHOTO - French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The kingdom is leading a coalition formed in 2015 to fight the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.

The French administration under President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism in particular from rights groups over its support of the kingdom’s actions and allowing weapons it has sold to Riyadh potentially to be used in its Yemen operations.

When asked specifically why France continued to sell weapons to Saudi and the Emirates in the current context, Jean-Yves Le Drian skirted the issue and said the priority was to find a political solution to the Yemen crisis.

“I’m really worried by the situation in Yemen,” Le Drian told parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “It’s an absurd war. It’s true that there are Saudi weapons, but would you believe it there are Iranian weapons too, lots (of them).”

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis weapons.

The two Gulf Arab states are among France’s main weapons’ clients receiving tanks, armoured vehicles, munitions, artillery and in the case of the Emirates, fighter jets.

Unlike some European states, Paris has shown no concrete signs of reducing or suspending sales to the Saudi-led coalition despite warnings that some of its weapons could be used in the war in Yemen, sources aware of the issue have said.

However, Paris has grown increasingly concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation and in December Macron called for a “complete lifting” of a Saudi blockade on Yemen.

“The problem is the sovereignty of the states that commit their own armies to an absurd conflict, and we hope that ... we will quickly (re-)start the political solution, because it is probably the crisis in the region that would be easiest to resolve if there was the political will on all sides.”

Reporting by John Irish, Editing by William Maclean

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