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Spain, Saudi Arabia talk Leopard tanks

by Staff Writers
Madrid (UPI) Nov 15, 2010
Saudi Arabian designs to buy up to $7 billion worth of Spanish-made Leopard 2E tanks have yet to follow through despite the kingdom's expressed interest.

Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the assistant defense minister of Saudi Arabia, discussed the potential deal with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during recent talks in Madrid.

Saudi Arabia "showed interest in the acquisition of battle tanks and Spain believes it has the tanks Saudi Arabia needs in terms of quality and competitive price," an anonymous Spanish government official was quoted saying by Defense News.

"We hope that the Spanish military industry can meet Saudi Arabia's needs but other countries are interested [in the Saudi contract]," the official added.

The El Pais daily indicated that the sale concerned at least 200 Leopard 2E combat tanks. If concluded, the daily said, it would mark the "biggest ever export deal" by Spain.

"There is still no contract," said Raul Alvarez, a spokesman for the defense sector of the major union Comisiones Obreras. He said the contract could reach as many as 270 tanks.

Spain and Saudi Arabia signed a military cooperation agreement in June 2008, intended to strengthen relations mainly in the field of training, scientific and technological cooperation. To date, that cooperation has focused on training Saudi Arabian pilots on Eurofighter combat jets in Moron, an air base in southern Spain.

Unidentified officials from the Spanish side said negotiations for the could-be deal may take weeks or months. In that context, the sources said, a delegation of Saudi experts is set to visit Spain to assess the tanks' specifications.

During his stay, the Saudi prince also met with Spain's King Juan Carlos. He is accompanying his father, defense minister and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, said by diplomats to be in failing health.

Khaled told reporters his father was in good health and was taking his annual vacation.

Prince Sultan, minister of defense and aviation since 1962 and crown prince since 2005, left the country in November 2008 to undergo surgery in the United States and then to convalesce in Morocco, returning in December 2009.

The tanks being considered are a rendition of the German Leopard model that the Spanish army adapted and built in the country by General Dynamics-Santa Barbara.

By some accounts the Germans are given a 30 percent entitlement as the patent owners.

El Pais reported that a condition to the deal was approval by Germany's Kraus-Maffei and Rheinmetall group, which holds the patents for the tanks.

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